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Trip Report: A First-Timer's Trip to Southern Africa (August/September 2007)

Trip Report: A First-Timer's Trip to Southern Africa (August/September 2007)

Sep 18th, 2007, 07:35 AM
  #21  
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Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 266
napamatt,
The vehicles have three rows of three seats. On the 3 of our 6 drives that had 8 passengers, two rows were full and the remaining one had 2 people in it - thus 2 of the 8 are in middle seats. (hope that makes sense)

Alex,
How lucky you were to be the only ones in camp! Colebert and Mac were not there when we were, we had Marcelino as our ranger and Isaac as our tracker the whole time. We also loved Janet and also Anna as our waitresses, they were so sweet and helpful!

Nancy,
Lucky you! If you are interested in what the suites look like and don't want to wade through all my pictures, the pictures of our suite as well as the common areas are at the very end of the set linked to above.

Heidi
hlg22 is offline  
Sep 20th, 2007, 05:15 PM
  #22  
 
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 6
I enjoyed the in-depth report and also the photos. It looks like you had a great first safari!
dpowlan is offline  
Sep 21st, 2007, 05:11 AM
  #23  
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Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 266
sundowner,
Sorry! I missed your question the last time I read through. To answer it, although our safari was the highlight, I am glad that we did Cape Town and Vic Falls as part of our first trip, as we enjoyed both. Next trip, though, will definitely be all about the safari!

I am still working on the Vic Falls and Chobe pictures and report - I'll hopefully have them done this weekend!
hlg22 is offline  
Sep 21st, 2007, 06:19 PM
  #24  
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,147
Heidi,
A very well written trip report indeed, with lots of telling anecdotes about the people and encounters you had, and your reactions to things, which is really what brings these things to life. Can't wait to see the rest. We also used Bob B. at Premier Tours and were very satisfied, though we complained later that they put us in Zambia instead of Vic Falls, which was closer to the water in Sept. Curious as to how you found the Zambezi Sun. Also curious about the Monidor in Joburg. We stayed at the D'Oreale Grande last time, but it's not really necessary to spend that much for a one-nighter, we thought. We'll try the Ocean Basket too, because we heard similar good things about those restaurants before. Exeter Leadwood looks and sounds wonderful, and you had great gameviewing.
Leslie
LAleslie is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2007, 05:14 AM
  #25  
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Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 266
Ok - finally got around to finishing this report!

Victoria Falls/Chobe National Park

Pictures:
http://www.kodakgallery.com/I.jsp?c=...&x=0&y=-arodxn
(these are the Vic Falls pictures - I still have to finish uploading the ones from our day in Chobe, so I'll post those separately)

So with heavy hearts we left Leadwood and flew back to Johannesburg. Because of the timing of the flights we were not able to make a connecting flight to Livingstone that day if we wanted to also do our last morning’s game drive, so we ended up spending one night in Jo’burg. We stayed at the Mondior Concorde hotel, which is in the Emperor’s Palace entertainment complex, and it was perfectly pleasant. We’d been a little concerned as the South African couple we’d met on safari had really turned up their noses when we mentioned we were staying there for a night – even going so far as telling us we should call our travel agent and insist that we be switched to a better hotel. But it worked out great. The hotel shuttle from the airport was easy to find and took only 5 minutes, and since we were arriving late and leaving early, the casino and restaurants at Emperor’s Palace (think a lower-rent version of Caesar’s Palace in Vegas) were an enjoyable, if cheesy, way to spend an evening. The Mondior Concorde is a 3-star hotel and the room was clean, comfortable, and modern-looking – just what you want in a transit hotel.

The next morning it was back to the airport to catch our flight to Livingstone, Zambia. On arrival, we were met by the local operator, Wilderness Safaris, and transferred to our hotel, the Zambezi Sun, which I’ll review below. The Wilderness Safaris folks were nice, but a little disorganized. We waited about 1/2 hour because they couldn’t find people on their roster, and they’d forgotten the “welcome” envelope with itinerary, etc. for us. After we finally made it to our hotel and checked in, our afternoon activity was a sundowner cruise along the Zambezi. This was quite relaxing and pleasant, and we had good views of the sunset, as well as a few baboons and hippos.

On our first full day, we started with a walking tour of the Zambian side of the falls. This was nice, but I also wanted to see the Zimbabwean side, so we arranged a tour of that as well immediately following. The view of the falls from the Zimbabwean side was so much better, and we were definitely glad we opted to visit it – my sister had been skeptical about spending all the extra money for the Zimbabwe visa ($30), and park entrance fee ($20), but later said she was so glad we had. Frankly, if I had it to do over again, I would have skipped the organized tour of the Zambian side and just walked there myself as it is only a few minutes’ walk from the Zambezi Sun. Only four of us out of the 15 or 20 people who did the tour of the Zambian side opted to visit Zimbabwe as well. After the tour of the falls we were driven down into Victoria Falls town, and we got to briefly walk around the Victoria Falls Hotel, which was beautiful.

In the afternoon, we had the Vic Falls activity that we had probably been looking forward to the most: high tea on Livingstone Island. Livingstone Island is a piece of land perched right on the lip of the falls, and is the place where Dr. Livingstone first viewed the falls. The trips depart by boat from the Royal Livingstone hotel, and in the high season, the water virtually covers the island, so visits are impossible. Even more interestingly, in the low season you can swim (following the precise instructions of the guides) to a pool formed by rocks right at the edge of the falls, which is what we did – you form a human chain holding hands with the guides, who will instruct you to swim to a certain spot, then walk over some rocks, then swim some more, until you arrive at the “Devil’s Pool.” I am by no means a daredevil, but I found that I was so busy focusing on making sure I was swimming or stepping in the right place, that I forgot that the edge of the falls was such a short distance away. Also, I am not a particularly strong swimmer but had no problems. It is quite an amazing experience once you finally make it to the pool to sit there with the water rushing over the falls a few inches behind you (and watch the tourists on the Zimbabwe side gawking at you!). If you are really brave, you can inch out over the edge with the guides holding on to your feet and look straight down. My sister did this, but I got about halfway inched out, looked down, and was like, hell, no! My parents got a little freaked out when they saw the pictures. After making it back to the island, you have high tea (or for us a stiff G&T after that swim!). It is a really, really cool thing to do, and I think they run morning and lunch trips as well. It is essential to pre-book, though, as it is limited to 12 visitors at a time – as we were leaving the Royal Livingstone there was a really pissy couple who had not pre-booked and were just shocked and kind of rude about the fact that they could not be accommodated.

When we returned from Livingstone Island, we decided to grab a drink on the Royal Livingstone’s sun deck, and along with a gorgeous sunset got some entertainment when vervet monkeys started swooping in to try to purloin some of the snacks set out on the tables. One monkey also very politely posed for pictures on the railing, with the setting sun in the background.

Our final full day, we had a full day tour of Chobe National Park in Botswana. We were driven the hour to the border, and after going through formalities on the Zambia side, got into a boat with two other people for the ride to the Botswana side. Turns out one of them was a guy I went to law school with and hadn’t seen in six years – he was heading to the Kasane airport. Small world! From the border, we were transferred to the Chobe Safari Lodge, where we boarded a boat for our game-watching cruise. The cruise was good – after a slow start we saw lots of elephants, hippos, other animals – but we both agreed that we probably would have enjoyed it more had it been the first safari experience we’d had. Watching some elephants swimming was neat, though. After returning to the lodge for lunch, we went out on a game drive during the afternoon. It was a very different experience than Leadwood: our driver was really just a driver, and not a ranger, we had to stay on the roads, etc., but we actually ended up having some decent sightings, including huge numbers of elephants, pods of hippos, sable antelope, and a journey of giraffe. I never got tired of watching the giraffes bend themselves down to drink, or run in their awkward/graceful way. After the drive, we were transferred back across the border and to the hotel.

In the evening, we again headed to the Royal Livingstone’s sun deck to watch the sunset, have a drink (yummy kiwi martinis) and watch the cheeky monkeys try and snatch snacks from the tables. We then went to dinner at the Royal Livingstone, also eating outside. Unfortunately, I had changed from shoes and socks to ballet flats right before leaving our room, and forgot to apply insect repellent to my feet, resulting in my first and only mosquito bites of the entire trip! I was so mad at myself, since I know I am prone to bites and had been so careful. The result was 17 bites on my right foot/ankle, and 19 on my left. My sister also got a few, but nowhere near as many. Given the reaction I have to mosquito bites, they are still not completely gone and it made for a very itchy and unpleasant 24 hours of traveling back to the U.S. the next day.

On our final day, our flight wasn’t until early afternoon so we spent the morning taking a tour of Mukuni Village. I was a little skeptical of this, thinking it would be completely touristy, but it wasn’t. Mukuni is a real village of around 7,000 people, which was settled over 700 years ago. Tourism has been beneficial to the village (we were told) – tours are given by local residents, and a school and clinic have opened. We learned that the current chief is a former oil company CEO, who returned to the village to take up his hereditary position. Seeing the small huts, the chief’s “palace” and learning about how the village operated was really interesting.

At the end of the tour, we got to go to the craft market, where the artisans of the village sell their wares. I was excited about this as I hadn’t really bought much on the trip, but unfortunately it was a little intense for us. I am used to the hard sell and have enjoyed bargaining in Marrakesh, Tijuana, and Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, but this was those experiences x100. It is impossible to simply have a walk through, look at all the goods to compare quality, and then return to haggle for those you’re interested in. The vendors were so pushy and desperate (“madam, please buy something from me or my family won’t eat”) and their starting prices so high ($60 for something probably worth $2 or $3) that the experience was quite unpleasant. For example, I would be standing with my sister trying to help her bargain (she’s horrible at it) with one vendor, and the next three guys would all be screaming at me to look at their stuff, trying to force me to hold little carvings, etc. I did buy a few baskets that I like very much after bargaining, but would have bought a lot more had it not been for the hard sell. I am wishing I’d bought more though, since Zambian woven baskets very similar to those I bought for $7 or $8 are on sale in the current Pottery Barn catalog for $99 each as “African Wedding Baskets”: http://www.potterybarn.com/products/...t&cm%5Fsrc=SCH. After Mukuni, we headed for the airport, and 24 (miserable) hours later we were back in DC!

Hotel Review – Zambezi Sun

This was the only real disappointment out of all of our accommodations. I hated this hotel, but let me preface my remarks by saying that I only really can take time to travel a week or two a year, and so when I do, I like to stay at places that are nice, comfortable, and on the luxurious side. Others, my parents included, prefer to spend the least amount possible on lodging and spend their money on parts of the trip instead – I completely respect that, but it’s not my choice. So my remarks are coming from my perspective only, although my sister has much lower standards than I do and she really disliked the Zambezi Sun as well. It just has a very American package-holidayish feel to it. I saw a NY Times article that described it as “hideously over-jazzy” and I think that about sums it up. The common areas are well-maintained and pleasant, if a bit garish. The room, however, was awful. We had a ground-floor room in “Block One.” The corridors were narrow and dark, and with the concrete walls reminded me of a dormitory. The room itself was small and looked quite worn. The blankets on the bed were dingy, those 100% polyester blankets with the satin binding that get all pilly when washed – both of ours were stained. More distressingly, the room with FILLED with mosquitoes. I’m talking dozens, possibly hundreds. There were also little mosquito bodies smashed to the wall, curtains and bedside table where other guests had whacked them. A complaint to the front desk elicited a promise that they would have housekeeping spray, but although the numbers would diminish they would always come back. So we would wake up in the morning with a couple mosquitoes squished in the beds where we had rolled over them. The TV in our room was broken, and despite complaints not fixed until our last day. Also, as our window/sliding doors faced directly onto a path, we had to keep the drapes closed almost all the time, and the room was consequently very dark. I considered asking for a room change but my sister really didn’t want to pack up all her stuff again and from peering in other rooms through open windows and comments overhead from other guests I don’t think our experience was unusual. We made it our goal to spend as little time in the room as possible.

Restaurant choices were two: the poolside café (buffet breakfast and dinner, lunch a la carte) and Squires (a la carte). The main restaurant was closed for renovations. The breakfast buffet at the café (included in room rate) was good and extensive, with fruit, pastries, hot items, and eggs cooked to order. Types of food at both I would describe as generic middle-American (burgers, fries, pizza, etc.). The prices were high, though given the lack of choices in the area this was not surprising. We ate lunch at the café one day, my pizza was very undercooked. We also ate dinner at Squires our first night, which I can only describe as Applebee’s in Africa.

By contrast, we also visited the Zambezi Sun’s more upscale sister hotel, the Royal Livingstone, which we liked much better although we did not see the rooms. As mentioned above, we had drinks two nights in a row on the Royal Livingstone’s deck, which has a view of the falls and is a great place to watch the sun set. The drinks were no more expensive than at the Zambezi Sun, but were much better. We also ate dinner on our last night at the restaurant there, and our meal was very good.

If I had it to do over again, I would definitely have booked the Royal Livingstone, one of the lodges in the area, or stayed in Zimbabwe at the Victoria Falls Hotel – staying at the Zambezi Sun ended the trip on a low note, which was unfortunate. I am honestly not sure why Premier Tours put us here in the first place, as I did not give them a strict budget and it was so far below the quality of the other hotels we stayed at/requested – given that, I guess I would have expected some warning or explanation.

I will try to post the Chobe pictures along with a few final things we learned that hopefully will help other first-time visitors soon!

hlg22 is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2007, 03:49 PM
  #26  
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 14,440
I can understand your mixed emotions about seeing a leopard cub in trouble on Game Drive #1, actually on any game drive. Glad it worked out for the cub. The family dynamics of these leopards are worse than what I see on Jerry Springer. I believe this sort of behavior is common, but I was told at Mombo they have sometimes seen family reunions of leopards. What an initiation for you.

That's wonderful you got two see your male lions. What's more they were in very good light. Often the sighting you want most is saved for the end. How does Africa do this?

Your kudu shots are very unobstructive and that is hard to get. I even spotted some of my favorite antelope--the nyala.

The cheetah is always a favorite of mine and yours was well fed.

On your Vic Falls photos you captured both sides beautifully. The monkey in the sunset is striking.

You have a helpful and entertaining report and great photos to go with it.

That must have been a juicy novel that the vervet chomped on after you left it on your deck. Forgive me, I couldn't resist.

Your tale of the two leopards forced up a tree sounds like something I recall from Aesop's Fables.

Nice to have the space station as one of your sightings.

The lion encounter at sundown is absolutely chilling. Your picture captures it well. You may have been shaking, but the effect is dramatic. A good reason not to wander off on sundowners. I would not have blamed the ranger if he drover off a half mile and stopped for some heavy duty sundowners himself, in the vehicle.
atravelynn is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2007, 07:53 PM
  #27  
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 46
Thank you so much for confirming my suspicions about the Zambezi Sun. It was the one thing I ask our travel agent to change. I now feel more confident in spending a little more to stay at the Royal Livingstone. We appreciate the detail. Good report
ijkh is offline  
Oct 4th, 2007, 12:52 PM
  #28  
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Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 266
Atravelynn,
Thanks so much for your kind words.

ijkh,
I think you're making the right call!


I've just noticed that our ranger Marcelino has posted his account of our Jerry Springer-esque leopard family sighting on Wildwatch: http://www.wildwatch.com/sightings/bush-family-affair

I am still working on getting the final batch of photos from Chobe sorted through and uploaded, but should definitely be done by this weekend!
hlg22 is offline  
Oct 5th, 2007, 03:14 PM
  #29  
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 64
Thank you so much for your luscious trip report. I leave tomorrow and you have me so excited. I would have planned some things differently as I have read, but there is always next time!
bobandvee is offline  
Oct 6th, 2007, 01:59 PM
  #30  
 
Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 91
hlg22:
Very enjoyable reading. I was completely breathless reading your account about the "Jerry Springer-esque leopards".

I am planning a similar itinerary as yours for Aug 2008. Thanks so much for your trip report.

Did you take any anti-malaria meds for this trip?
Thx
mistik321 is offline  
Oct 9th, 2007, 10:53 AM
  #31  
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Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 266
Finally finished uploading the Chobe pics - here they are:

http://www.kodakgallery.com/I.jsp?c=...&x=0&y=-lelxoz

mistik321,
Yes, we had to take malaria meds since Sabi Sands and Vic Falls are in malaria areas. We started taking the Malarone while we were in Cape Town. I actually did have an adverse reaction to it while we were in Vic Falls - one night I must not have eaten enough food with it and had an awful indigestion-ish feeling that started during the night and persisted until around noon the next day. I had a similar reaction to Doxycycline when taking it in college. My sister had no problems, though.

hlg22 is offline  
Mar 30th, 2008, 06:40 AM
  #32  
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 185
Excellent report, good detail, and a delightful read.....

LDTC2
ldtc2 is offline  
Mar 30th, 2008, 06:56 AM
  #33  
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 14,440
Great job on the drinking giraffe and you caught the whole process, even the drips. Your photos show why Chobe means eles. Sable and more sable, even a sable family! Those questionable waterbuck looked like waterbuck to me. I agree, very pretty on the lilac breasted roller. Thanks for the photos and the report.

atravelynn is offline  
Jul 31st, 2008, 04:44 AM
  #34  
 
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 165
Hello hlg22 or anyone-
I was trying to look at pictures to get an idea of what we should be bringing, in terms of clothes, for our safari. I kniw what to wear during the day, but is it okay to wear that at night to dinner? It seems as if dinner is right after the PM game drive and there is not time to change anyways.
Please help!
Thank You.
enlehman76 is offline  

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