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Trip In Progress Report - Joburg, Singita Game Reserve, Cape Town and Vic Falls (Matetsi)...

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Mar 18th, 2002, 04:16 AM
  #1
Rocco
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Trip In Progress Report - Joburg, Singita Game Reserve, Cape Town and Vic Falls (Matetsi)...

I am writing this from the Kingdom Hotel in Victoria Falls. Vic Falls is a virtual ghosttown right now. Tourists are outnumbered by unemployed men and Zanu-PF youth militia by about 10 to 1, at least in the streets. You cannot step foot on the street without being surrounded by men either trying to sell you worthless items, offering to exchange your American dollars at triple the bank rate or simply following you and "guiding" you to where you already know where you are going in an effort to earn a tip.
I am staying at the Matetsi Game Lodge and the only highlight, much to my surprise, is the ranger. I cannot understand how Small Luxury Hotels continues to sponsor them. I didn't expect Singita, but I did expect a very nice experience in somewhat luxurious surroundings. The insects are absolutely everywhere and you just have to deal with them, whether it is a roach crawling up your wine glass or other insects flying into your food. The lodge is about 2/3 full but mostly by younger people (average age is about 30 years old which happens to be my age as well) who are not coming here from Singita, as I am. Consequently, they are quite pleased while my wife and I are quite disappointed.
This trip started very well with a very nice flight from LAX-JFK-Joburg. The plane was only about half full allowing the passengers to really spread out.
It was only a single overnight in Joburg at the Rosebank Hotel a four star hotel which I enjoyed. (Part II to follow)
 
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Mar 18th, 2002, 04:29 AM
  #2
Rocco
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I almost feel as if I am a prisoner in Zimbabwe right now. Tonight will be my third and final night and I am counting the minutes until I get out of here. Matetsi, to their credit, has tried, but it has come at the lowest levels and the general manager, a Swiss guy is nowhere to be found.
Anyway, after Joburg, my wife and I flew on a 12 seater directly to Singita on Fedair. Although I didn't fully appreciate it at the time, Singita is leaps and bounds ahead of not only Matetsi but also some of the other leading lodges in the Sabie Sand reserve as I could tell by others comments who had stayed at such places as Mala Mala and Londolozi. I did meet one nice couple at Singita though that said the Royal Malewane was even nicer than Singita.
Singita's service from their upper management was excellent but from their regular staff (service employees) was a bit lacking. The game viewing at Singita was superb. Every 10-15 minutes we were having close encounters with elephants, cheetahs, lions, rhinos, etc. Numerous times I was within 5 feet of predators who could've been on top of me in a millisecond.
The food at Singita was good but not great. However, the sanitation was excellent and it totally left me unprepared for what I am now experiencing in Zimbabwe. The rooms were to die for, at least 1000 square feet of pure luxury, with phones, three air conditioning units, two bathrooms, a nearly full sized pool, etc. The rooms at Matetsi don't even have a phone. Singita also had a beautiful wine cellar, internet access and large common areas.
Anyhow, Cape Town was absolutely beautiful and I am going back tomorrow afternoon for four more nights. First time around we spent four nights at the Table Bay Hotel, a great experience. Cape Town, honestly, is 1/3 the price of the U.S. when it comes to restaurants and even real estate. One entire day was spent with various realtors who showed us very properties. I can honestly buy a house that would be $1 Million U.S. Dollars for 1/3 to 1/4 of that price. Anyhow, my shuttle back to Matetsi is arriving so it is time to go. If anyone must see Victoria Falls, a truly awesome sight, I strongly suggest no more than ONE night in Victoria Falls...that is all you need. I really regret that I don't have an extra two nights in Cape Town instead. Will right a full report when I return home.
 
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Mar 18th, 2002, 04:49 AM
  #3
Lisa
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Thanks for taking the time to report Rocco. I was interested to hear about the situation in Vic Falls. Did you get any feeling/comments about the elections while you were here. Did you feel safe?
 
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Mar 19th, 2002, 11:31 PM
  #4
Rocco
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Lisa,
I felt mostly safe regarding the political situation but I didn't feel so safe while being surrounded by a dozen young men each time I stepped outside. Matetsi is very isolated, about 35 miles away and deep in the bush, from Victoria Falls, so while there I felt safe.
I must report that Matetsi REALLY dropped the ball even more than through my last report. I had an afternoon flight which Matetsi supposedly had reconfirmed for me so after a 75 minute ride to the airport in an un-airconditioned minivan I arrived only to learn that the flight had ceased to exist as of one month ago. I am now writing from the Victoria Falls Hotel where they put me up for the night (but not before returning all the way to Matetsi to have a face to face meeting with their elusive General Manager). I am happy to be out of Matetsi and into the best hotel in town but I have a feeling that they only put me up here so that I would not be able to communicate with the other guests at Matetsi regarding the horrible stay I had there. Just the same, I am VERY HAPPY to be out of there. There are some very nice people there and excellent rangers but they lack any direction whatsoever from upper management. The entire three night stay we never even had a tracker but only a ranger who I suppose was supposed to somehow drive, naarate and act as tracker. The food was BAD and the service was worse. I am taking antibiotics right now after falling ill at Matetsi. I would strongly suggest a maximum two night stay at Vic Falls to anybody interested in coming and preferably at the Victoria Falls Hotel, a truly beautiful hotel (but still lacking basic necessities such as air conditioning except for wall units in the rooms although my A/C only worked for half the night before dying).
The one day delay in Vic Falls has changed the whole itenerary of my trip. I had important meetings set up in Cape Town for today to see a couple properties and meet with a lender but now those are shelved. Consequently, I have shelved my two night stay at the Grande Roche and extended my stay at the Mount Nelson to allow two free days in Cape Town. Mount Nelson was gracious enough to give me 100% credit for last night and did not charge me one cent for cancelling at the last second. Grande Roche will likely charge me 50% for each of the two nights that I am not there but I feel like I really need the time in Cape Town. Again the Mount Nelson is proving gracious by offering me a 50% discount for the two additional nights, negating the effect of the Grande Roche's refusal to give me more than 50% credit.
I will just be thankful when my plane takes off in about three hours from Vic Falls Airport. As beautiful as the Falls are, I am not so sure they are worth a trip into Zimbabwe. The people are very nice but with its current leadership, it really is a 3rd world country, making Mexico, for example, look like ancient Rome, in comparison. Will write more on my return home.
 
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Mar 20th, 2002, 06:29 AM
  #5
pam
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Rocco,

Wow! Your experience has been entirely different from mine! I am so sorry for all the problems you are encountering, I would be fuming!

I agree with you about Zimbabwe, 1 1/2 days is the max amount of time one needs to spend there.

Good luck with the rest of your trip.

Pam
 
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Mar 20th, 2002, 05:42 PM
  #6
gabe
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rocco- i hope your trip improves! i feel quite disappointed for you as you were so excited before you left. I look forward to hearing about your experiences in capetown
 
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Mar 21st, 2002, 03:07 PM
  #7
Joan
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Wow! What a mess. I hope Cape Town is going much better.
The trip I am planning includes Victoria Falls, but now I am not sure.My trip is a ways off yet,and I do hope it improves by then.It is just my Daughter and I going and it doesn't sound like a good place for two women alone right now.
I am looking forward to hearing about the rest of your trip.
 
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Mar 23rd, 2002, 06:36 AM
  #8
Mary
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How is it that you can be that close to the animals and they don't try to attack? Are the sharp shooters always ready? We are going to Singita in August!
 
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Mar 23rd, 2002, 07:25 AM
  #9
pam
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Mary,

I am so jealous that you are going to Singita!!!!! I only got back a few weeks ago and am already planning to return. It is an amazing place!

Pam
 
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Mar 23rd, 2002, 08:36 AM
  #10
kavey
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Mary

We were also only a handful of feet away from big cats and elephants in completely open vehicules.

Our guides explained that they don't attack because the vehicule is not a shape they recognise as being prey - if you stand up and become more recognisable or if you get out of the vehicule you are then at risk.

Most good guides always asked us never to stand in the vehicule, even when it was stationary. It's not necessary anyway for the views.

But occasionally we saw landrovers belonging to other companies where the guides allowed their guests to stand.

None of our guides carried guns, and we preferred it that way, I would not want an animal shot because I chose to invade its territory to take photos, it reacted in it's instinctive way, and was shot for its trouble.

Infact one camp manager told us of events which he had heard of from a friend guiding at another camp.

4 visitors had gone out on a foot safari, their guide carried a gun. The guide managed to lead them into position smack between a leopard and a lone bull elephant. The elephant was spooked by the cat and charged and the guide had to shoot.

Two guests were thankful and the other two furious.

Their feelings echoed mine, that if I choose to take a trip to see animals in their natural habitat, especially on foot, then I must take the risk onto myself, not demand protection from the guide at the expense of the wildlife itself. I don't personally want any wild animal shot in order to save me when I chose to put myself in that position.

Best tip, work out where your feelings lie (I don't criticise either choice) and then choose camps where the guides do or don't carry guns accordingly.

Kavey
 
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Mar 23rd, 2002, 07:21 PM
  #11
Mary Ellen
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Your feeling at the Kingdom Hotel has me a little worried. I have never been to Africa (can hardly wait), am doing a canned tour, staying at the Kingdom April 20 & 21st. More input please as its too late to back out. I knew there were some political problems but guess it is worse than I thought.
 
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Mar 27th, 2002, 06:07 PM
  #12
Mary
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Pam:
Tell me all about your Singita Experience!
 
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Mar 27th, 2002, 07:23 PM
  #13
Rocco
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Regarding the Kingdom Hotel, it is not a BAD hotel, but it just has a plasticlike appearance and is really just a big casino. I don't mean to be a wet blanket, but maybe it is possible to upgrade to the Victoria Falls Hotel...trust me it will make all the difference to spend a possible extra $150 a night. The Victoria Falls has beautiful grounds and even though you are right next door to the Kingdom, you really feel like you are miles away.
Just be sure to reconfirm your flight out of Zimbabwe so you don't get stuck an extra day like I did. Be sure to take a raincoat to Victoria Falls as the most beautiful and closest parts may feel like you are in the middle of the most beautiful thunderstorm you have ever been in. You will have fun, but just let me say that while at the Victoria Falls Hotel, a party of like 50 people wandered in to have a formal dinner at the Victoria Falls Hotel restaurant. I jokingly said to my wife that I bet they were staying at the Kingdom and just couldn't stand it there anymore. Well, we asked one of the staff, and sure enough, they were from the Kingdom Hotel.
My original tour was garbage compared to the upgrades I did. It nearly doubled the cost but it was completely worth it. Give it a shot and see if you cannot upgrade. Good luck.
 
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Mar 30th, 2002, 08:12 AM
  #14
paula
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Oh dear Rocco - they don't even have PHONES in the rooms in Matetsi! And the INSECTS?! Get real - this is Africa and guess what? this IS the 3rd world. The beauty of Africa is the bush, the wildlife, the stars. We have 1st world infrastructure in Joburg and Cape Town etc, but that's not the great thing about Africa! Just relax, spay on some Tabard, look at nature and forget about the phone! Shame about Zim, I thought it might be a problem. Such a lovely place and really great people - very sad. I've stayed at the Vic Falls Hotel (and Matetsi)- it was ok, but I can't stress enough, that's really not what Africa is about. Rocco I'm not trying to be mean, but you need to put away those 1st world hangups and look at what is real - then you'll see that insects and lack of phones really don't matter in this beautiful continent! As for those who are worried about the wildlife - it's a bit scary sometimes (my first safari was on foot and believe me when you realise you are out there with some seriously wild animals it certainly focusses your mind on life!!), but it's fantastic and something you'll never forget! Hope the rest of it works for you Rocco- this really is a great place. Paula
 
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Mar 30th, 2002, 09:13 AM
  #15
Rocco
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Paula,
My point was merely that Matetsi advertised itself to be something that it may have been in the past but that it no longer is. I was told that Matetsi has been decimated by the political situation and that they have lost their very best employees (management level?) who have fled Zimbabwe like so many others.
Singita was also far in the bush but I didn't have any problems whatsoever there and I certainly didn't have to take antibiotics as I did at Matetsi, likely caused by poor sanitation and food handling.
I had no other problems while in Africa, but bush or not, there is no excuse for not even having a tracker on the game drives. The very thick bush, at least three times thicker than in the Sabie Sand reserve (Singita) made game viewing hard enough as it was. The last thing the guests needed was to be deprived of a tracker for the entire trip (3 nights, 6 game drives 0 trackers). Matetsi is undoubtedly in a beautiful location, has a couple of excellent rangers and nice but unmanaged service staff but at $660 per night, it is outrageously overpriced and I do not see why it should belong to the Small Luxury Hotels of the World chain. If you are able to book Matetsi in Joburg or Cape Town, you can get it for about 1/3 the price that Americans are charged. I would have no complaints whatsoever if Matetsi was 1/3 the price, but even paying 50% the price, as I did, it just wasn't worth it. I'd rather pay $900 a night anytime for Singita, as I did, than $330 per night for Matetsi. At least you can fly directly into Singita on their small, private airstrip, instead of having to be driven 75 minutes away from the Victoria Falls Airport when going to Matetsi.
Bottom line is I paid for a luxurious private game experience at Matetsi and Matetsi failed to provide as promised.
 
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Mar 30th, 2002, 10:11 AM
  #16
Paula
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Rocco - you are right - you didn't get what you paid for at Matetsi. Very sad situation there and very different to my experience a few years ago. The political situation is ruining that beautiful country.

I don't really believe that Africa and luxury experiences are necessarily completely compatible, but hey, if you've got the cash then go for it!
 
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Apr 8th, 2002, 04:46 PM
  #17
pam
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Mary,

I am sorry for not answering you sooner. I left for Costa Rica on March 29 and just returned again on Sunday April 7th! I have been trying to post my travel report for South Africa and Zimbabwe, but cannot find the time!

I posted this brief report about Singita on another post:

...I must tell you that Singita WAS the highlight of our trip. We stayed at the Boulders Lodge and our room was beyond words. Get ready for a wonderful stay. The lodge is run very efficiently. The food was some of the best we had in Africa (including Constantia Uitsig, Buitenverwachting, and this fabulous 12 course "African Feast" that we had in a private home!). The lodge is a completely no hassle, no stress environment. The service is outstanding and genuine. Be sure to have Alan, the lodge manager, show you his well stocked wine cellar. Once you meet Alan, you will know why his lodge was rated 100% by CondeNast readers last year. A lodge is only as good as the manager. I am returning to SA next year, just to stay at Singita...and the Cape Grace.

I will have a more descriptive report of the rooms and the lodge as a whole as well as a more extensive report for the entire trip soon.

Pam
 
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