Trip Report-Botswana 2007

Old Aug 28th, 2007, 12:08 AM
  #41  
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Cybor,
Please feel free to run amouk with my photos. And yes, I'd love to see some of your paintings. Your trip is not as far away as you think. Next summer will be here before you know it.

Lynn,
Having never been to Duba before, I'm glad I captured it's essence in my trip report. Also, I didn't know aardwolves were elusive. In fact, I didn't even know what one was. Yes, I was lucky on this trip. Re: the trousers, at first I didn't realize what you were talking about, but I went back and read the trip report, and you are right! Funny!

Paco and Monica,
I am glad you are enjoying the report thus far. Next installments coming soon.


Okapgirl,
Yes, James and the Duba boys are still around, and going strong. Duba is magnificent.
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Old Aug 30th, 2007, 11:22 AM
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Hi Dana,
Glad to hear that.
micher00(at)msn.com
replace (at) with @
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Old Aug 30th, 2007, 03:22 PM
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Okapigirl

If you get chance to meet Grant W, he is a great guy. We donated to the rhino introduction program a couple of years ago and you are right WS are doing a great job both with that program and the excellent Children in the Wilderness.
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Old Sep 1st, 2007, 04:14 AM
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Thanks Dana-you got us all feelin' the WS/Duba love(as I stare at my Duba boys poster)Love your pics!
Napamatt-Can't wait to thank Grant for all the good times!
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Old Sep 1st, 2007, 08:33 PM
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Thanks for all of your comments about my trip report thus far. I'm sorry it's taken so long to get the next installment posted, but here it is.

TUBE TREE

Photos:
http://picasaweb.google.com/Danastra...July07TubuTree

OVERVIEW

Tubu Tree is a lovely camp. I had a very nice time here. The birding was excellent, the game drives very good, and accommodations phenomenal. The large tented rooms were luxurious without being stuffy. My guide was very good, and this being the only camp on my itinerary with water activities, it rounded out my trip nicely. However, after my incredible experience at both Duba Plains and Duma Tau it would have been hard for any camp to compare. While I found the guides and staff very good, the management was not at all on par with the management at Duba Plains, Duma Tau or Chitabe Trails.

Joe was my guide. Tubu Tree was apparently short on guides and Joe was a loaner from Jao. Joe was a very good guide and I enjoyed his company. However, he was somewhat unfamiliar with the area and was therefore at a bit of a disadvantage. However, I appreciated having Joe as my guide since were it not for him I might have only had three game drives total during my three night stay. The reason for this is that Tubu Tree offers fishing, boating and mekoro activities in addition to game drives. If your vehicle mates are interested in water activities and you are interested in game drives you could be out of luck.

The staff at Tubu Tree was very attentive. However, I wasn・t too keen on the temporary managers, Girt and Doreen. I can・t quite put my finger on it, because they were certainly friendly and tried to make guests feel welcome. They just were not very professional. They talked quite a bit about themselves and about how many years experience they had managing camps. They also stressed, a little too adamantly, that the camp was not owned or managed by Wilderness Safaris, but merely marketed by them. I already knew this, did not care, and did not get their point. It seemed as if they thought Tubu Tree was better than Wilderness owned or operated camps. I did not understand why (especially since I just came from Duba Plains and Duma Tau), and in fact, the only reason I even knew about Tubu Tree at all is because it is marketed by Wilderness. They were biting the hand that fed them, and it was more than just a little odd. Anyway, these conversations made me a little uncomfortable, particularly when they gave me their business card so I could call them for my next safari. I thought this was inappropriate and left the card in the trash in my tent. They also bragged quite a bit about the chef and about the food, which in my opinion was not good at all. However, neither the management nor the food are the reasons I choose to stay at a particular camp while on safari, so lest anyone think I had a bad time here, please keep reading. I enjoyed it here very much.

Tubu Tree is primarily a water camp, and the birding was excellent. We saw herons and egrets, including the purple heron and the black heron, the great white egret, little egret, yellow-billed egret and the slaty egret. We saw storks and ibis including the white stork, yellow-billed stork, saddle-billed stork, African sacred ibis and hadeda ibis. We also saw hamerkop. We saw the white-breasted cormorant, reed cormorant, African darter and dabchick. Geese included the Egyptian goose, African pygmy goose and spur-winged goose. We saw the African fish eagle on several occasions and a martial eagle. Other birds included the wattled crane, black crake, African jacana, blacksmith plover, lapwing plover, black-winged stilt, and tchagra. The game was not prolific here, but we saw giraffe, elephant, and leopard repeatedly. We also saw wildebeest, red hartebeest, red lechwe, impala, zebra, warthogs, and baboons. The mekoro trip was very enjoyable, and something I think everyone should do at least once. Sunsets here, particularly those over the water and the marshes, were breathtaking.

Accommodations were absolutely lovely. The lounge area and dining room are under canvas, as are the tented rooms. The rooms are very large with all of the necessities (and more), including plenty of hot water, indoor and outdoor showers, large comfortable beds, a writing desk, and plugs for battery chargers. The tented rooms also have very large decks with a great view overlooking the marsh. I have to admit that I have enjoyed the more luxurious accommodations like those here and at Duba Plains and Duma Tau. I liked the spacious rooms with large outdoor decks with fantastic views. The weather was quite cold when I was in Botswana, and the more substantial tented rooms kept it a little warmer at night. Lastly, what seems a very minor detail but made a difference to me is the placement and orientation of the beds. With double beds pulled together and the head of the bed placed in the middle of the room instead of at the tent side meant it was a little warmer when I went to bed at night and I did not wake up with a draft on my head in the morning. This bed placement also provided a nice view past the deck and out onto the marshes. This configuration alone made the rooms here (and at Duba Plains and Duma Tau) preferable, in my opinion, to the tents at Chitabe Trails.

DETAILS

I arrive at camp around 3:30 and almost immediately go out on my first game drive. My vehicle mates are Emily, a young woman who is traveling with her mother, and Shaun, a Sefofane pilot who is overnighting at Tubu Tree. Emily・s mother, Priscilla, does not join us on the game drive, and later I find out why. Emily, Shaun and I don・t see much on the afternoon game drive. However, we do spend some time with a couple of giraffes, and I particularly enjoy watching them at dusk near a watering hole trying to decide whether or not they are going to drink. We also have an excellent view of a beautiful sunset.

At dinner I meet Priscilla and find out that she injured her leg getting out of a plane and had to have stitches. The accident didn・t happen at Tubu Tree, and in fact I do not know where it happened. But, they did not arrive until late in the day instead of in the morning as planned. I am surprised when I meet Priscilla that she is in such good spirits. Not a negative word about the accident, the stitches, or the disruption to her safari. In fact, I never even hear the details of the accident because we talk instead of our game viewing, previous camps we have each been to, and camps next up on our itineraries. I am not sure I would have been such good company had I been in the same situation.

We have an unremarkable dinner. The food here is not really that that bad, it just isn・t very good. As soon as we sit down for dinner, Doreen introduces the chef and begins what becomes an annoyingly repetitive bragging ritual about the food. I think she believes that if she says this enough that we might actually believe it. But of course nobody does. In fact, the only negative comments I hear from other guests during my stay at Tubu Tree are about the food. There is a funny story specifically about food told at dinner. Doreen and Girt were told that a family of four who arrived that day kept kosher. They obviously could not accommodate serving kosher food so they were in a panic. When the family arrived and Doreen mentioned this to them they all laughed hysterically. They had merely ordered kosher meals on the international flight because, as with vegetarian meals, often a special diet meal is better than the standard fare. At the dinner table this is a very funny story because we already know the family isn・t kosher. In fact, they themselves had a pretty good chuckle over the whole situation. But what were Doreen and Girt planning to do if they were?

After dinner I go to bed early solely because everyone else does. The family of four has young children, Emily and Priscilla have had a long day, and Shaun has an early flight. I often tend to stay up later than others while on safari. I am a bit of a night owl and don・t want to spend precious vacation time sleeping. The real reason, however, is that I love the outdoors. I like to stay outside as long as possible, but assume it isn・t safe to go out on my deck after dark. At the other camps I was told to stay inside the tent at night. When I mention this to Doreen the next morning she says since the decks are raised that it is perfectly safe to sit on my deck at night after dinner. In the evenings to follow I consider doing this but decide against it. I am not totally confident that she is correct, but rather get the impression she said this because she prefers that the guests go to bed early so she can do the same. I retire to my tent, read for a while, and go to bed. The fresh air and the sounds of the bush at night agree with me. I sleep like a baby.

The next morning breakfast is an assortment of cold cereals, granolas, fruit, and juices. There is actually quite a nice assortment, but breakfast is served in the lounge area, set up on the coffee table, not in the dining room. This is a bit strange not only because there isn・t anything hot to eat, but because people are standing up. This is another difference between Tubu Tree and the other camps I stayed at in Botswana. All of the others at least had a campfire in the morning and most had something hot to eat, like porridge. Tubu Tree had neither. I am here at the beginning of July and it is quite cold in the mornings. While a morning campfire is only a minor detail, it・s often the small details that distinguish one camp from another. I must say, however, that the coffee here is excellent.

When we get ready to leave, I of course think we are going on a game drive, but Joe says we are going on a boat ride. I don・t know if Emily or Priscilla asked to go on the boat ride or if Joe (or Girt or Doreen) just assumed this is what we would want to do. I am a bit surprised that I was neither asked nor told ahead of time, but since I・ll be here for two and a half more days I don・t say anything. However, when Joe then says that we are going on the mekoros that afternoon and therefore will not have a game drive at all that day, I speak up. While I do want to go on the mekoro, I have come to Africa primarily for wildlife viewing. I tell Joe this and immediately both Emily and Priscilla offer to forego the boat trip, but I can see the disappointment in their faces. Obviously they had requested the boat trip and are just trying to be accommodating. We are all quiet for a few moments, and about the time I・m starting to feel like a real heel Joe offers to take us on a game drive during siesta time. Of course I accept his offer, which is a perfect solution to our problem. This is why I really appreciated having Joe as a guide. A similar situation occurs the following day, and Joe solves the problem again. I don・t know what the results would have been if I・d had a different guide. I would suggest to anyone staying at Tubu Tree that if you want to go on game drives and not just participate in water activities that you make your desires known early on. You might also want to insist that prior to your departure you get confirmation that you will be able to go on at least one game drive per day. Your vehicle mates, or your guide, might not be as accommodating as mine. Of course, there is a common theme throughout this trip report. During my entire Botswana stay I have excellent vehicle mates! Not everyone is this lucky.

So, with the game drive problem solved we head off for the boat trip. The boat trip is not something I would have chosen, nor would I necessarily recommend it. It depends on what you are here for. It is very relaxing, the scenery is pleasant, and the water lilies are absolutely gorgeous. Surprisingly, the bird life on the game drives is much better than on the boat trip. In my opinion the mekoro is a lot more enjoyable than the boat trip. I don・t see the need to do both, and certainly not in the same day. Not if you・ve come to Africa to go on safari.

After brunch Joe and I set out on a game drive. We have, of course, asked Emily and Priscilla to come along, but they decline. So, it・s just Joe and me. We ride along the water filled :roads; and see egrets, herons, cranes and storks. We see stilts, hamerkop, and an African fish eagle. Beautiful birds are all over the place. Because we are driving in the water, they are right in front of us. In fact, they don・t move until we are very close to them. The bird life here is even more concentrated than at Duba Plains, and it is beautiful. After driving around in the flooded area for a while we head for drier land and there we see red hartebeest, impala, zebra, and elephant. We watch baboons playing, fighting, and eating from a sausage tree. We spend a lot of time watching a male baboon chase a female in heat. This is one of the nice things about a private game drive. You can stay and watch whatever you want for as long as you want. It is clear by the female・s behavior that she wants nothing to do with the male. Well, not yet anyway. He chases her relentlessly, and eventually she finds herself hanging by very end of a tree branch, looking down, trying to decide if it is too far too jump. She decides that she won・t make it safely to the ground and while she doesn・t jump, she doesn・t climb back up either. She just isn・t ready.

No sooner do we leave the baboons, that we get stuck in the mud. This happens not once this afternoon, but twice. This is where Joe is at a disadvantage, not knowing the area as well as he would if he were a permanent Tubu Tree guide. The first time we get stuck Joe gets us out in less than 30 minutes. He jacks up the vehicle and after foraging around for logs and tree limbs puts them under the wheels to get some traction. It is now mid afternoon and we don・t have too much time for the remainder of my game drive before we have to head back to camp to go on the mekoro trip this afternoon. We don・t have to head back right away, but Joe decides to drive in that direction so we will have time to stop along the way if we see something interesting. It・s a good thing he did because on the way back to camp we get stuck again. Joe tries to get us out but can・t. And boy does he try. He calls for help, but when help arrives, they still can・t get us out of the huge mud hole. Eventually we have to be towed out, so what is potentially several hours of private game viewing turns into an hour or so of game viewing and a couple hours of being stuck in the mud. But I still enjoy the afternoon. What I see during this drive is more than I・ve seen up to this point at Tubu Tree. And I enjoy Joe・s company. When he realizes that I like birds he gives me a sort of primer on how to identify them. He suggests that I buy a bird book specific to the area of the country in which I live and practice while at home. Although I have not yet taken his advice, I think this is a great idea.

We arrive back at camp and set off for our mekoro trip. Because there are three of us we have two mekoros. Joe is the poler for Emily and Priscilla and Broken is my poler. Broken is excellent. He tells me he wants to be a guide and I can tell by his enthusiasm that he will make a great one. It is fairly late in the afternoon and we can see the water lilies closing right in front of our eyes. When Broken sees I want to take photographs of the water lilies he shoves his pole into the muddy bottom and stops the mekoro, as if on command. While taking photos I hear a sound behind me like twigs cracking. I turn around and see that Broken is making water lily necklaces for each of us. In hindsight it・s funny that this is one of those small details that I remember so fondly. I love water lilies and Broken knows it. When it is clear that the sun is about to set Joe finds the perfect place to stop for sundowners: a small island with a mesmerizing sunset. Joe sees me taking photos with the sunset in the background and mekoros in the foreground. All of a sudden he gets back in the mekoro and poles out into the water so we can get photos of him in the mekoro with the sunset in the background. It is at this time I wish I took better photographs. Or at least knew what camera setting to use when looking directly into the sun. The view is spectacular. I have had sundowners in some beautiful places in Africa, but for me this setting ranks right up there with sundowners on the Oloololo Escarpment in the Mara.

When we arrive back at camp, it is obviously too late for an afternoon game drive. In fact, it is almost pitch black. Joe and Broken pushed the envelope keeping us out as long as possible on the mekoro. And I appreciate that. It really was an incredible afternoon. I am in my tent for what seems like only a few moments when Doreen shows up and excitedly asks if I want to go for a drive. Another guide has spotted a leopard with what Doreen thinks is an impala kill. Do I want to go? Of course I do!

Moments later we are off. Emily, Priscilla, and I are joined by another couple. This is their first camp in Botswana, and they just arrived at Tubu Tree moments earlier. What an incredible beginning to their safari. We get to the sighting and find a leopard in a tree, not with an impala kill, but with a sitatunga kill. This is perhaps one of the most ironic things that has ever happened to me on safari. I have never seen a sitatunga, but have wanted to see one since my safari to East Africa in 2003. Of course, I would have preferred a live sitatunga to a dead one. In fact, what I really want to see is a sitatunga swimming. Anyway, everywhere I go I casually ask the guides if they have sitatunga in that area. They either say they don・t have sitatunga in the area, or that they have sitatunga but that sitatunga are very elusive. Earlier that day when we saw red lechwe in the water I asked Joe this same question to which he responded :yes, but they are not easy to find.; Of course I knew the answer to the question before I asked it, but I asked it anyway. So this, my second night at Tubu Tree, what do we see? One leopard sleeping in a tree with a sitatunga body on a branch above it, and another leopard with the sitatunga head on the ground. In unison, Joe, Emily and Priscilla all say "well Dana, there's your sitatunga."

This is a perfect early evening sighting, with two exceptions. First, my one and only sitatunga ever is a dead one, and it・s not even in one piece. Second, the husband of the couple that joined us has a camera with a huge flash. Although he does ask Joe if he can use the flash, he isn・t really listening to what Joe is trying to tell him. In his excitement he is so oblivious to others that he doesn・t realize that his flash is preventing the rest of us not only from taking photos but from getting a good view of the sighting. Joe tells him it is alright to use his flash, if he thinks he will get better photos that way. Then Joe tells him he will get better photos without the flash when the spotlight is on the leopard. Well, the husband doesn・t take Joe・s advice and flashes away. The problem for me and the other guests in the vehicle is that he never stops. As soon as I get ready to take a photo his flash goes off. His flash is so bright that not only can I not take photos (obviously I can not time my pressing the shutter button with his flash), but I can hardly see. I am sitting behind him and to the right, in the direction of the sighting. The bright light practically blinds me, and as soon as my eyes start to adjust it goes off again. But it is still an exciting sighting, and even more so because I thought the game viewing for the day was over. We watch the leopard for a while, with the hyenas also watching from nearby. Apparently before we got the leopard was pulling the sitatunga up into the tree, the hyenas grabbed the head and together they tore the sitatunga in two. The hyenas had control of the head on the ground when we arrived. Shortly after we got there another leopard came out of the shrubs and took the sitatunga head from the hyenas. We missed the initial fight between the hyenas and the leopards, but I did enjoy hearing about it from other guess during dinner.

Because I will also be with the new couple the following evening, when we arrive back at camp I ask Joe to say something to them about the flash. Joe tells me to do it. This is my only complaint of Joe. I do think he should say something. Perhaps something as simple as pointing out to the man that he should put his camera down for a few moments so others can take photos. But later on when I do say something to the husband he is very apologetic and we got along very well after that. His excitement had just gotten the better of him.

I・ve learned my lesson about activities here, so after dinner I ask what we are doing the next day. I am told we are going on one game drive and one mekoro trip. Obviously, I am not happy. I went on the mekoro this afternoon, and while I loved it, I do not want to do the same thing tomorrow. But, I also realize that the couple who has just arrived has a right to do what they want to do as well. This is, in my opinion, one of the problems with a small camp if they have multiple activities but only a limited number of vehicles and limited number of guides. I assume that the couple was asked what they wanted to do and that they had chosen the morning mekoro trip, so I think I need to be very diplomatic. Wrong. While I・m trying to figure out how to convince them to forego the mekoro until after I leave, I realize that they don・t know that the mekoro replaces a game drive. As soon as they hear this they tell Joe that they・d rather go on a game drive instead. I encourage them to ask if they can go on the mekoro mid-day and when they do, of course it is arranged for them. In the end it all works out quite well. We all get both a morning and afternoon game drive that day, and they are still able to go out on the mekoro. But, had it not been for me mentioning this to the couple, the result would not have been the same. I think the managers need to do a better job of coordinating activities and telling people what their options are. They should not assume every guest would prefer a mekoro or a boat trip to a game drive, even if Tubu Tree is primarily a water camp at this time of year. This might have been because temporary managers were there at the time. It・s the only camp I stayed at where they did not seem to communicate properly with the guests. I mean, really. No game drives on safari?

The following morning we are five guests in the vehicle. There are three rows of seats behind the guide, but apparently they don・t like anyone to sit in the last row. Why, I don・t know. I mean, what・s it there for if you aren・t supposed to sit in it? Priscilla sat in a middle seat the night before so Joe asks me to sit in a middle seat this morning. I am not going to sit in between the husband with the huge camera and his wife. No way. And there is no reason to ask her to move over and sit in the middle, with no view. There are plenty of seats, so after everyone is seated, I climb into the back row, and that・s when Joe asks me to move. With no offer to sit up front with him, I just say no, and stay where I am. I guess he agrees, because we drive off and start on what is to be a fantastic game drive.

The morning game drive starts off with a bang. I have decided that my new vehicle mates are leopard magnets and all-around good luck. I mean, they had only been at camp for less than an hour when we had our first leopard sighting the night before. We aren・t five minutes from camp when Joe spots a leopard relaxing on a fallen tree. At first she seems not to notice us, but after a few minutes she stares right at us, and as if to tell us that we are disturbing her nap, she gets up and walks away. Not long after, we spot another leopard in the bushes. She too eludes us after only a few moments and we leave that spot. But what do we see next? Another leopard, this time high up in a tree basking in the sun. While all three of these sightings might have been of the same leopard, we didn・t actually follow her from place to place. So, whether it is the same one or not, either way we got lucky. Next we see a fairly large herd of impala. We watch two males fighting, butting heads for a while, listening to the sound of horns banging against one another. Later this morning we see warthogs, giraffe, more baboons, a herd of wildebeest, zebra, a black-backed jackal, and an African wild cat. This morning・s game drive is very productive, and the most diverse of my game drives at Tubu Tree. And of course I have the perfect view of it all, perched high up in the last row of seats!

After brunch I say good bye to Emily and Priscilla, and the couple leaves for their mekoro trip. I go back to my tent, and settle in on my deck with my journal. I plan to take notes of everything I saw this morning, but after sitting there for only a few moments I hear loud rustling in the bushes. It is a troupe of baboons. Well, honestly I don・t know how many baboons constitute a troupe, but there are more than just a few. They run past my tent and into camp. This is another great thing about this camp and the others on my itinerary. Wildlife inside the camps gets my adrenaline pumping. At this moment, however, I・m glad I didn・t listen to Doreen and sit outside on my deck at night.

Our afternoon game drive begins with a fairly large elephant in the road who apparently does not want to make way for us. We laugh while she roars, waving her trunk wildly, and kicks dirt at us. Apparently she doesn・t know that we know that she isn・t serious. Obviously, if she wanted to hurt us she could. But we know she doesn・t really want to hurt us, so her :threats; are actually quite comical. She goes on like this for a while, and we just watch her, grins on our faces. After the elephant is finished with her theatrical display we leave the area and almost immediately see another leopard. She looks at us as if to say that this time she isn・t going to let us ruin her nap, plops her head down, and goes to sleep.

Dinner tonight is preceded by traditional African song and dance around a lovely campfire. I mentioned earlier that there wasn・t a campfire in the mornings. But there was a fire every night, and the setting is quite nice. The entire staff is participating in the song and dance, and even the guides join in. The music is fantastic, and one woman in particular has the most spectacular voice. This is my last night at Tubu Tree, and along with the mekoro at sunset and the leopard with sitatunga in the tree, it is one of the highlights of my stay.
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Old Sep 8th, 2007, 06:38 AM
  #46  
 
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Your account at Tubu Tree is very insightful and helpful. It drives home the point that you should politely make your preferences known, from safari activities to where to sit in the vehicle. I agree with you that at least one activity should be a game viewing drive at most safari camps. Granted, some are solely water camps or solely walking camps, but then you know that up front. Making reasonable wishes known with your agent BEFORE you even leave home seems to be more and more the way to go.

The sitatunga event was quite ironic for you and quite unfortunate for the sitatunga. It appears the several predatators that got into the act were in luck, though. When I read your first comment about the leopard and sitatunga, I must admit wincing and wishing it had been a different, less rare prey.

Joes seems like a great guide to accommodate everybody so well. I bet the guy with the explosive flash did not even get that good of shots. It does work better with just the spotlight. At least he was pleasant and a leopard magnet.

Thanks for the report.
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Old Sep 8th, 2007, 06:30 PM
  #47  
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Dana,

I'm just catching up with your report and enjoying it.

You deserve your luck with vehicle mates after Namibia. I like your thoughtful evaluations of each camp and admire the way you handled issues at Tubu Tree.

If you had to choose between Duba and Duma--where would you go?

I was also told (at Ngala Tented) that sitting on the deck was perfectly safe. I did give in to the temptation to sit out, but not for too long. I did wonder whether a simple low deck without railings would actually discourage visitors at night.

Thanks.

CW
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Old Sep 15th, 2007, 02:16 PM
  #48  
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Finally, here is the last installment of my Botswana trip report, Chitabe Trails.

CHITABE TRAILS

Photos:
http://picasaweb.google.com/Danastra...7ChitabeTrails


OVERVIEW

I really enjoyed Chitabe Trails. The management, guiding, and staff were absolutely wonderful. Game viewing was excellent, with wonderful sightings on each and every game drive. Accommodations werent as luxurious as the other camps I stayed at in Botswana, but were still extremely comfortable.

My guide was Andrea, who was absolutely fantastic. He was very knowledgeable, enthusiastic and persistent, yet also patient. He had a friendly disposition even when reminding people to be on time for game drives, not to make noises at the animals, and in general setting down rules. He chased dogs relentlessly one morning long after others had given up; he sat patiently with us for hours waiting for a baby leopard to show her face; he spent time with guests in the afternoon and evenings talking about their game viewing experience. It was clear that Andrea loves his job, and he has an excellent way with people.

Game viewing here was fantastic. We saw lion or leopard everyday, and on some days we saw both. We saw wild dogs, and on the morning we chased them we did so for nearly an hour, long after all of the other vehicles had given up. We saw a mother leopard with a very young cub. We watched her hide the cub in the bushes and followed the mother as she went back to an impala carcass in a tree, pulled some meat off the bones and brought the food to the cub. We followed a male lion for about thirty minutes one morning while he followed a female. Game drives here were experiential, and much more than just stopping to take photos of animals. In addition to several lion and leopard sightings, we also saw giraffe munching on acacia trees; elephants eating, drinking, playing, and of course roaring at us; and impala fighting. The highlight here, however, was definitely the leopard cub.

Accommodations at Chitable Trails are not as luxurious as those at Duba Plains, Duma Tau, or Tubu Tree, but they are still very comfortable. The tents are a little smaller than at the other camps but still spacious, and they are not raised as high off of the ground. I realize for some that this set-up is preferable, but I have to admit I prefer the more luxurious tented rooms. But dont get me wrong. This is by no stretch of the imagination roughing it. The tents here have two single beds, pulled together, with mosquito netting. There are en-suite facilities including both indoor and outdoor showers, plenty of hot water, bedside tables with lamps, and plugs for charging batteries. Each tent also has a small deck, although there is not much of a view. With only five tents, the camp is quiet and intimate. The dining room, lounge area and bar are very cozy. There was always a warm campfire where we gathered daily, discussing our game drives, and watching elephants in the nearby watering hole. And the staff, the food, and the management were excellent.

DETAILS

I arrive at camp late in the afternoon and Josephine makes sure to tell me to quickly return to the main area for tea before we head out on our afternoon game drive. This is common here. Both the staff and the guides continually remind guests not to be late so that they dont hold up other guests. Although thus far none of my Botswana vehicle mates have been late, my vehicle mates on my last afternoon game drive here are. Andreas gently but firmly reminds them that they are holding up others and suggests they be on time from now on. Of course, Im never late so as soon as I arrive I go to my tent, grab my hat, scarf and gloves, and return immediately to the lounge area. Im early, so I have an opportunity to talk to Andrea for a few minutes before everyone else arrives. I immediately get the feeling that Ill enjoy having Andrea as my guide, and its not long until I know that my feeling is accurate. In fact, all of my guides in Botswana are very good, and for this I am grateful.

My vehicle mates are Jos and Ann, a lovely couple from Belgium. This is their first safari, and it is fun for me to watch the excitement on their faces at each new sighting. Before we start off on our afternoon game drive, rather than ask what we want to see, Andrea asks if weve been on safari before, how long well be in Africa, where else weve been and where else we will be going. In this way he gets to know each of us, even if only a little. He gets a feeling for what we might each like to see without taking specific requests or setting expectations. His approach works quite well.

Less than five minutes into our first game drive we see a lone lioness basking in the sun. This is not only Jos and Anns first lion sighting, but this is their first game drive at their first camp, on their first safari. Their excitement shows and it is contagious. During my entire stay with them I dont think either one ever takes the smile off his/her face. We watch the lioness for quite some time, and then Andrea gives us the rule talk. No standing up, no making noises at the animals, etc. I recall this only because we had already seen the lioness before he gave this talk. That is how quickly our game drive started, and it would set the pace for nearly every game drive here. Almost immediately after leaving the lioness we see an elephant drinking at a watering hole, who we later hear has been hanging around Chitabe main camp.

After watching the elephant for a while we leave and a few minutes later we see a giraffe eating from an acacia tree. The giraffes eyes are closed and I dont know if this is because she is enjoying these thorny branches so much or if her thick eyelashes arent quite enough protection from the thorns of the acacia tree. We see more elephants, who, true to form for this trip mock charge us, and of course, we see impala. We often overlook the impala, dont we? They are so prevalent that its almost as if we think been there, done that and pass them right by. Thats one of the reasons it is so much fun to share a vehicle with Jos and Ann. I regain a new appreciation for what I was starting to take for granted. We eventually stop for sundowners, take in the beautiful African skies and talk about what a great afternoon game drive weve had.

We return to camp and before dinner we have drinks around a roaring campfire. It is very cozy here. The camp is small and intimate. Even with everyone around the campfire at the same time, the group is small enough that we can all hear what one another is saying. We do this each morning and evening, someone always recollecting sightings on prior game drives. In addition to Jos and Ann, there is a family from California with a 12 year old son. He is just delightful to be around. It is clear that he is having a fantastic time and enjoys wildlife. In fact, his face lights up when describing his afternoon game drive. He is having so much fun that his eyes actually twinkle when talking about what hes seen that afternoon. I also enjoy getting to know the parents, who give me some tips on an upcoming trip to Costa Rica next summer. The guides and management are very friendly, and they also join in the conversation around the campfire. This camp is very comfortable and the management makes everyone feel right at home. Soon dinner is served, and it is quite good. Actually, the food was good at all of the Botswana camps I stayed at, with the exception of Tubu Tree. Following after-dinner drinks and more lovely conversation around the campfire I return to my tent and once again fall asleep to the sounds of the bush.

The following morning we are not out of camp for five minutes when Andrea spots wild dogs. As I mentioned earlier, almost every game drive here starts off right away with something exciting. Like Ronald at Duma Tua, Andrea yells hold on turns around and smiles at us, and immediately puts the vehicle into high gear. There is something so exciting about a chase, and my adrenaline is pumping. The dogs are running quite fast, and it seems like the only reason we are able to keep up them in sight is because they are zig zagging across the open grasslands. There are three dogs in all, and they stay together most of the time, so it isnt too hard to follow them. As long as we keep up the speed, that is. Andrea is driving as fast as possible, and even though were holding on tightly, were all being jostled from side to side. We are having the time of our lives! Just as we think we are going to lose the dogs to the forest they cross back over the plains, practically right in front of the vehicle. Andrea is driving as if he is playing tennis, watching a ball go back and forth. He seems to anticipate the dogs movements before they make them, so we are always a little ahead of the game. After about thirty minutes the dogs stop for a few moments and we get our first real look at them. I again think to myself just how beautiful they are with all of their unique markings. As if they know we are watching them, as soon as we get a couple of photos they take off and the chase is on again. We chase the dogs for another thirty minutes or so, long after the other vehicles have given up. In total we spend over an hour chasing the dogs, which is obviously a very exciting start to a morning game drive. In fact, if we see nothing else this morning I will consider it a great morning. But, we do see more game, and so it isnt just a great morning, but a phenomenal one!

Following the incredible wild dog chase we see impala drinking, a number of giraffe, and zebra, including a youngster. We also stop to watch hippos playing in the water, and there is a young hippo too. The theme here seems to be mother and her young. In fact, we even see a giraffe with its umbilical cord still attached. But, this is nothing compared to the following morning when we see a baby leopard. But, you will have to read on to hear that part of the story. After an exciting morning we return to camp, and after lunch I hang out in my tent for awhile going through photographs from this morning. I tried to take photos during the chase, but we were going so fast that they are all of course blurry. I spend the good part of an hour deleting the bad pictures but I save a few anyway. Not necessarily to show to anyone, but as a reminder of this morning: an incredible chase that Ill never forget.

When we initially set out on our afternoon game drive, it seems like we arent going to see that much. Remember, thus far we have been spoiled, so of course we want instant gratification! We see a dwarf mongoose, several giraffe, and a lone impala. Even the herds of impala that we often take for granted arent around. Just as it seems we arent going to be too lucky this afternoon, we spot a leopard. She is walking on the road but immediately ducks behind a small shrub and leans up against a termite mound. After a few moments she starts walking again, and we follow her. She isnt hunting, but she does appear to be on a mission. She walks a short distance, sits down, looks around, and gets back up again. She repeats these actions for several hours. We spend almost the entire afternoon following her. She sneaks into the brush every now and then, and just when we think she has eluded us Andrea manages to find her again. We dont stop following her until dark, and dont learn until the following day what her mission actually was. When we stop for sundowners and talk about where she might be going, little do we know that when we come looking for her the next morning she will have a surprise. On our way back to camp we see an African wild cat and a giant eagle owl. What a fantastic afternoon.

The following morning we almost immediately stumble on a lion, looking regal as they all do. He is relaxing in the sun, but as he does so he moves this way and that, as if posing for us and trying to provide his best profile for our photos. He isnt actually posing for us, but rather he has spotted something in the distance. As we follow his gaze, we see a lioness not too far away. We were so busy watching him, that we didnt even see her. He gets up, and we follow him while he follows her. She doesnt seem too interested in him; in fact, she doesnt appear to want anything to do with him. She is actually pretty far away, but from the distance we can see that she is not alone. As we get closer we realize that this is the morning for lions. A lone lioness relaxing by a termite mound, two adults and a cub walking as if on a mission (to where, we never did find out), and males with their majestic manes looking like the king of the jungle that they are. While basking in our good fortune we receive a call from another vehicle. They have spotted the leopard we saw the day before and believe she has a young cub with her.

No sooner do we arrive at the site of the female leopard that we get a glimpse of the cub as the mother leads it into the underbrush. I mentioned that here at Chitable Trails we see a fair amount of game with its young. But the young we saw yesterday, while not full grown, are not babies. This leopard cub is another story. The cub climbs up on a fallen tree limb and looks right at us. It could not be more than six weeks old, and is so young that it is still cute and vulnerable looking as opposed to confident and powerful like the adults. After a few moments the cub goes back into the brush and we never see it again. However, at this time we obviously dont know it wont come back out, so we stay at the spot and continue to watch the mother for a while. The mother goes into the brush, comes back out without the cub, and walks away from the area, obviously heading to a specific destination. We now understand that the mother told the cub to stay put. We follow the mother to a tree, quite far away, where she has stashed an impala kill. The mother climbs the tree, retrieves some impala meat, and takes it to where the cub is hiding. The mother then lies down in front of the spot, as if standing guard over her young.

After lunch I say goodbye to Jos and Ann and go back to my tent to pack. I am leaving early the next morning for my flight back to the U.S. Therefore, this afternoon is my last game drive at my last camp, and the end of my safari. My new vehicle mates are 30 minutes late, and I am a little more than annoyed with them. They are pleasant enough, but dont even apologize when Andrea tells them that they have kept me waiting. In fact, they would have kept me waiting even longer if Josephine hadnt gone to get them from their tent. Their excuse was that they couldnt remember where theyd packed things and just werent ready. Josephine must have told them they had about 5 minutes to get ready or we were leaving without them, because they showed up ready to go less than 10 minutes after she went to get them.

So we start out a little late for our afternoon game drive, but we still have a good afternoon. We return to the spot where we left the mother leopard that morning, in hopes of seeing the cub. We dont find the cub, and presume it is following mothers instructions to stay hidden in the underbrush. The mother is napping, rolling around as if scratching her back. After a typical cat cleansing, licking her paws and wiping her face, she gets up and leaves the spot. We follow her for quite some time thinking she will eventually return to the tree with the impala kill. Instead she roams a fairly expansive area, marking her territory. She seems to be moving away from the cub, neither returning to it or to the impala kill. We continue to follow her until dark, and watch her walk off into the distance. This is my last sight: a mother leopard, after feeding and protecting her young, walking off into the sunset. What an amazing trip!

SUMMARY

This was a fantastic safari. The combination of locations provided for diverse and exciting game viewing. Duba Plains, with the lion-buffalo interaction, was a unique experience and the birding there was excellent. The bird life at Tubu Tree was also excellent and the water activities enjoyable. Of all the camps, Duma Tau provided the most variation of wildlife, with Chitabe Trails a close second for diversity. My favorite camps were Duba Plains and Duma Tau, with Chitabe Trails running a close third. Tubu Tree was my least favorite, but it was still very nice. I am a bit of a food snob, and I found the meals at Duba Plains and Duma Tau excellent. Food was also very good at Chitabe Trails, but was actually pretty bad at Tubu Tree. I liked the accommodations at Duba Plains, Duma Tau, and Tubu Tree the most. I found the staff at Tubu Tree lacking, especially in comparison to the other three camps where management was superb. I had excellent guides at each camp, and I credit the success of the game drives almost entirely to them. Of course, we had a little help from the wildlife. The time of year, while quite cold at night, made for comfortable afternoon temperatures. Although this was the trip of a lifetime, for me it is not a once in a lifetime trip. I will return to Africa as soon as I can, and as often as possible.
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Old Sep 15th, 2007, 02:31 PM
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Lynn,
You're right, the guy with the explosive flash didn't get great photos. The few he took without the flash (while it was warming up I guess) were the best. He said so himself the next day. Joe tried to tell him that would be the case, but in his excitement the guy just wasn't hearing it. Both he and his wife were very pleasant, and with the exception of the flash incident I enjoyed their company.

The sitatunga situation was very ironic for me. The one and only time I've ever seen one!

I hope my description of what/when to makes ones desires known assists others. My TA did a good job. I had my itinerary, which specifically listed game drives, just in case I needed it. But luckily, due to Joe, I didn't need to pull out that trump card and make a jerk out of myself.

CW,
It would be difficult to choose between Duba Plains and Duma Tau. If I return to Botswana I will return to both. I think I was incredibly lucky with only 3 nights at Duba Plains, whereas my experience at Duma Tau is probably more typical of what others would experience. At Duba one could miss the buffalo-lion interaction all together. I was of course given this same advice while planning my trip, but instead of choosing between one or the other I did both. Honestly, I could not possibly choose between the two.

I'm glad you're enjoying my trip report. Sorry the last installment was so late.
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Old Sep 15th, 2007, 03:00 PM
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First off, the leopard cub! It was right out in the open and posing for a picture! You really got some other good leopard shots too. That's good the dogs stopped and also posed for a while. That must have been a crazy wild ride chasing them. The male lion was especially cooperative. Beautiful sunsets.

Chitabe had outstanding wildlife viewing for your final stop.

Half an hour late is terrible. How rude can people be!? And you even mentioned how everyone was continually reminded to be on time. I'm glad you still had a good final game drive.

Your choice of camps was excellent for a well rounded Botswana trip. You deserved a great time here after the Namibia mess.
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Old Sep 15th, 2007, 05:00 PM
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Chitabe Trails certainly looks different from our stay there since they have now elevated the tents/walkways. You definitely were lucky with your game drives-we did not see nearly the diversity of animals that you did but I loved the camp-the size is a big plus IMO. 30 min late is incredibly inconsiderate for your vehicle mates though!
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Old Sep 16th, 2007, 07:44 AM
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Dana M,
What are your Costa Rica plans for next summer? Feel free to email me on that.
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Old Sep 16th, 2007, 10:23 AM
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Lynn and Moremiles,
The choice of camps ended up being perfect. Remember how late I started planning? I took what Bert recommended, and I assume that was based on availability. So I think he did a great job and I also got very lucky.

The game viewing at Chitabe was excellent. My guide was great and seemed to have a nose for the animals. The leopard cub was definitely my favorite sighting.

The only time anybody was late was late during my entire Bots trip was that last game drive. It is ironic that it was at the camp where they continually reminded people to be on time. But I have to credit Josephine. She just went to their tent and got them. I have no idea what she said, but it worked. Lynn -- I recall your recent trip report where you listed some acceptable reasons for tardiness and I wholeheartedly agree. But, not remembering where you packed things isn't one of those. Really, how much can you actually misplace in a small duffel bag? Moremiles -- the camp really does have an wonderful intimate cozy feeling, doesn't it? Were Josephine and Kenny managing when you were there? I think they had alot to do with the atmosphere.

Lynn,
I emailed you about Costa Rica.

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Old Sep 16th, 2007, 10:50 AM
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Yes, Kenny was managing at the time we were there-don't remember a Josephine, just someone named Beauty and our guide, Relax. Kenny is the one who ended up giving my DH his injection in the posterior after receiving instructions from the Dr. in Maun although he gave me the choice of doing it!
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Old Sep 16th, 2007, 02:05 PM
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Moremiles,
On my last night I stayed up drinking wine with Kenny until late into the night. I didn't want my trip to end, and this was my last night, so I indulged. I felt bad the next morning that Kenny had to get up so early and I got to sleep in. Well, until about 7 a.m. anyway.

Josephine was the other manager. She was fantastic also. I think she and Kenny set the mood for the camp, which was wonderful. I don't remember anyone named Beauty.
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