Trip Report - Feb 2007 Victoria Falls and Botswana

Old Feb 21st, 2007, 09:31 AM
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Trip Report - Feb 2007 Victoria Falls and Botswana

Hello all,

Just got back a couple of days ago from an amazing trip to Vic Falls and Botswana. Lots of stories to tell... lots of kills... wild dogs... Hari stories...

I went on my own, and had a wonderful time, meeting a lot of great people. The weather was absolutely amazing for the rainy season - maybe rained a total of 30 minutes on my entire trip during the day, and very seldom at night. Yes, it was very green, and that affected the quantity somewhat, but definitely not the quality of the sightings I had. Plus the green made for some nice colourful pictures.

Anyways, on with the trip report

Feb 2nd - Feb 4th

I leave Toronto on my 38 hour epic journey to Victoria Falls Hotel. Flew the first leg on Air Canada to LHR and on BA from LHR to Livingstone via JNB. I was grateful to be traveling on BA first class to LVI. For my 8 hour layover at LHR I was able to get a shower and massage and relax in the lounge (wasnít in the mood to go into town).

Feb 4th

38 hours later (well rested from the flight though) I arrived at Livingstone airport. Even though I was staying in Songwe Village the next day, immigration wasnít sure to charge me or not for a transit visa as I was going to Zimbabwe for a night. They finally decided on $30 - I kind of laughed at how they came to this figure, as they discussed it for about 5 minutes, and decided that it was right for me. Not in the mood to argue, I paid the $30. Unfortunately my ride that was to be arranged from the Vic Falls Hotel didnít arrive, so I made arrangements for a taxi to the border, connecting to another taxi to take me to the hotel. The whole transfer went very smooth and I arrived around 1 pm.

The Victoria Falls Hotel is a beautiful hotel near the falls. It was so nice to finally get to my destination. I checked in, had a shower, changed, and hit the patio for a couple local "Zambezi" beers. The service was outstanding, the prices were not too bad, and the view great. When I signed the bill to my room I asked the server whether they would prefer the tip on the the bill or in USD cash (knowing what the answer would be). Of course either would do I was told, but USD cash was better. I than got the explanation on the inflation and that the USD dollar on the black market was worth 3 times what the official exchange rate was posted. In making my arrangements for this trip, I had been in contact with a company called Safpar for some of my extra activities in the area. Safpar picked me up in the afternoon, and I was off on a nice walking tour of the falls. At this time of the year the falls are going pretty strong, but despite some mist was able to get some great shots. I returned to the Hotel for dinner, followed by an early night to bed to get caught up on some sleep.

Feb 5th

I woke up completely refreshed and was picked up by Safpar for the Ellie Encounter and Lion Encounter. I understand there are different view points on this board on whether supporting these encounters is good, so I wont go into great detail. I will say I really enjoyed the experience, and learned more about both Ellies and Lions. I found the people of Zimbabwe to be very nice, and wish I was there at the end of my trip instead of the beginning, as there were some amazing deals on wood carvings. Unfortunately with the small plane flights coming up, I didnít buy anything.

I was supposed to transfer to Somalisa Camp in Hwange National Park. Unfortunately this did not work out, and at the last minute I added Songwe Village for 2 nights. After the Lion encounter I had lunch at the hotel and transferred over the border to the Helicopter Ride. Now I found this excellent. We spent 30 minutes in the air, and had some amazing views. I was able to get a lot of great pictures, and very much enjoyed the experience.
The folks from Songwe picked me up, and I was off to that camp for 2 nights. Songwe is a little bit away from the action in Livingstone, and about 30 minutes from town. I arrived and was given a tour of my camp for the next couple of days. They have a couple of baths that overlook the gorge, and the view is excellent. It was nice to relax in the tub, and have a cold drink. After the evening bath, I met the other 8 people at the camp and we had dinner followed by a bunch of drinks.

Feb 6th

This morning we did the cultural visit at the local village. It was a relaxing morning, and a nice way to start the trip. That afternoon we had a game drive at the park, and were able to spend about 30 minutes close to the 2 Rhinos that are still there. For the evening we were supposed to do the game drive, but unfortunately they were booked up, so we decided to hit town instead. Our guide Louie gave us a tour of town, and we stopped by a local pub for a couple of beers. After that we transferred home for dinner.

Feb 7th

Today I was transferring to Kwando Lagoon Camp, and I was very excited to get there. As we had some new people in the camp, I was asked if I didnít mind to do a game drive in the morning, followed by the transfer to the airport. This worked for me, and we were able to have a nice drive with another 30 minutes of so being able to watch the Rhinos. We transferred to LVI for our small plane transfer. 4 people were going to Labala, and I was off to Lagoon. This was my first experience with a 6 passenger plane, and while I was somewhat nervous at first, soon overcame any issues I had and relaxed to enjoy the trip. After dropping off the 4 at Labala, I was off to Lagoon. I arrived at Lagoon to meet my private guide for the next 2 nights, Russ. I decided to spend a little more on the trip and have a private guide for my Kwando Camps - more on that later, but it was very much a worth while investment. Russ has been guiding for a while, and very good at what he does. We had a short game drive and arrived at camp. I will have to say that around Lagoon at this time of year, it was very green, and that the grass was quite high - making it somewhat difficult to see animals. I explained to Russ that I really wanted to see Wild Dogs, but was was happy to see anything. We had a nice evening game drive, seeing the usual normal wildlife. After a nice sundowners, we went back to camp for dinner. I met 2 couples from South Africa, and after dinner us men decided to have a night cap. Let me say that the one night cap turned into 7 or 8, and 10 pm turned into 3 am... we had some great conversations, touching all the taboo subjects like religion, and politics. It was a great evening, but was going to be rough for the next morning...

Coming soon... report on Wild Dogs...
richardfh is offline  
Old Feb 21st, 2007, 10:01 AM
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Outstanding report so far! I will be visiting the exact same areas in two weeks, and I'm relieved to hear that my chances of seeing wild dogs are pretty good. Can't wait for your next chapter!
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Old Feb 21st, 2007, 11:34 AM
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sorry you didn't get to make it down to Somalisa, one of my favorite places, but glad you had a great time. I too enjoyed the Lion Encounter. Glad you saw dogs too, looking forward to more of your report.
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Old Feb 21st, 2007, 12:40 PM
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Sounds like it was a great trip. I am starting to get excited about our first visit to Africa. My husband and I are off to VFH in May and then onto Botswana for a couple of weeks and then to Quilalea Island for some scuba diving. The only thing left for me to organise is our spare time in Victoria Falls. From your report it looks like you did the elle and lion encounter in one day. How did that work and what time were you picked up and dropped off. Did you do any canoeing?
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Old Feb 21st, 2007, 02:41 PM
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Enjoying very much so far. Look forward to more as well as pictures if you've got them.
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Old Feb 21st, 2007, 04:35 PM
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Your last line indicates you did see some dogs. A half hour with some rhinos is not bad either!
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Old Feb 21st, 2007, 05:22 PM
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Richard,

Good to hear from you. Russ, as in Ruster? He's funny and a good guy.....

Can't wait to hear about your wild dog stories and later hopefully, some pictures?

Rgds,
Hari
 
Old Feb 21st, 2007, 11:49 PM
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Im just going through the pictures, and trying to sort them down... 8 different kills and lots of sightings means I took too many photos...

Hari, yes Ruster... He says hello from Botswana, and hopes to see you in May.

Georgie, I did the Lion encounter, and a shortened version of the Ellie encounter. All in one morning.
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Old Feb 21st, 2007, 11:53 PM
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Richard,

Hi!!! hope to see him out on drive- i dont have reservations at Lagoon. Doing only Lebala....so, i will have to either hope to see him out on drive or sometimes he transfers his guests from Lagoon to Lebala, so maybe i'll see him!!!

8 kills at the 3 kwando camps? My goodness!!!! That's super luck!!!

Hari
 
Old Feb 22nd, 2007, 06:38 AM
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Feb 8th

After staying up till 3 am around the camp television, 5:30 came very early...

Mr. Rick, its 5:30 and time to get up.... Uuggg, Rick is still sleeping (advantages of having a private vehicle).

Mr. Rick, its 6:30 and time to get up... Uuggg... They found wild dogs at Lebala... Instantly awake, Rick will be ready to go in 5 minutes.

My head was heavy, but with the mention of Wild Dogs, I was ready to go. After a quick shower and packing, in 5 minutes we hit the road. Russ asked how I wanted to go... the usual tourist speed, or as fast as possible - the trip to Lebala area could take upwards of 2 hours. Of course, I didnt want to miss the sighting, so I said dont worry about me, go as fast as you can. The next hour flew by literally, as we sped to the sighting. On the drive I was told that Spencer was the man who found the dogs, and that he was going to be my private guide for my 2 days at Lebala. Even though I was hanging on for my life for most of the drive, it was exciting, and I was really hoping to see the dogs. After an hour, we went cross country and soon found 2 vehicles who were moving slowly... Russ moved us into place, and WOW, there were the Dogs. They were the Selinda pack I am told, and there were 16 of them. It was great just folling them for the next 30 minutes or so as they moved around. They found a pool of water, and decided to relax a little while. At this time the other 2 vehicles "voted" to leave the sightings to look for other game, as they Dogs had already killed about an hour earlier. I was so glad for a private vehicle, as I could do what I wanted. With the pack being so big, Russ figured that they would soon be hunting again, and he was right. About 30 minutes later, the Alpha female got everyone up and the hunt was on. A short while later (and very fast and bumpy ride) we came across them taking down a smaller impala, and literally tearing it apart. We watched them feed for about 20 minutes until the first Hyena showed up sniffing around. It was intersting on how the pack worked together. Some ate, while others stood watch. When the Hyena showed up, there was a little staring contest, but nothing much happened. The Hyena did get a bone later on, and seemed content with that. With the dogs seemingly satisfied, they moved back to the water hole, followed by some relaxation under a couple of trees. Russ asked what I wanted to do for the rest of the day, and I said you are looking at it... lets stay with the dogs all day.
We waited with the dogs to make sure they were going no where in the heat until about 1 pm. As Russ and I hadnt planned on staying for the day, we didnt have any supplies, so we decided to make the 10 minute drive to Lebala to get some supplies. Charles warmly greated us at Lebala as the manager, and we had a quick bite to eat, and relaxed for about an hour, figuring the dogs were going no where. In the mean time, a new vehicle had gone out to the dogs and was keeping an eye out for everyone. At about 3 pm we went back to the dogs, found some shade under a tree, and waited for them to wake up. I am told by our tracker who kept watch, that both Russ and I were snoring a little as we both caught a little sleep in the hot afternoon. About 5 30 the dogs finally woke up, and we were again off. It was interesting watching them interact, and playing amongst each other. When they finally got moving, there were always a couple of dogs ahead of the pack, and one dog would take the high ground at any offering to view the area (usually a termite mound). Within 45 minutes they found some more impalas, and were again on the hunt. Holding on for dear life as we followed them, we soon found their kill. Very quickly this time though, a Hyena came by and took the kill, and was filling its face as quickly as possible. The dogs stood by and watched this for a minute, and finally decided to attack. Wow, I have not seen such a flury of action as 16 dogs attacked the Hyena. It soon had multiple cuts all over its body, and for suvival dropped the kill, and backed into a convenient Aardvark hole. Russ figured that if that hold wasnt there, that the dogs would have killed the Hyena. The dogs went to their feeding, and a tired and battered Hyena went away. We watched the dogs feed, and eventually relax as nothing else came their way. As it was close to dark, and we still had to drive back to Lagoon, we decided to leave. We had a long 2 hour drive in the dark back to camp, and saw a lot of different animals. Very tired by this time, we had a quick meal and went to a well deserved sleep... it was a fantastic day, and I really enjoyed it.
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Old Feb 22nd, 2007, 07:22 AM
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Wow Richard! What a day with the dogs, 3 kills in one day by the pack too.

At Lebala you probably saw the pictures but that pack did kill a leopard right in front of guests so Russ may well have been right that it could have been lights out for the hyena.

Looking forward to the rest of this action packed trip and pictures!
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Old Feb 22nd, 2007, 01:55 PM
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Fantastic wild dog action!
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Old Feb 22nd, 2007, 05:27 PM
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Richard: Nice account of your wild dog day......
 
Old Feb 23rd, 2007, 04:34 AM
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What and incredible report and stories Richard,very well narrated also.
I look forward for the rest of it since i am going to Kwando camps in November( i know my chances with the dogs will be lower at this time)and of course some photos of that amazing experience you had.

Thanks,Paco.
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Old Feb 23rd, 2007, 05:13 AM
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Pacoutside the denning period, your chances to see the dogs are similar during the rest of the year. i.e.,depends on luck as they can travel vast distances and can be anywhere on a given day.

Rgds,
Hari
 
Old Feb 23rd, 2007, 05:14 AM
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Typo- i dont know how that smiley got there.......sorry.
 
Old Feb 23rd, 2007, 06:04 AM
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As Hari says, the dogs are hit or miss if they arent denning in the area I am told. For instance, the Selinda pack we saw, had not been seen for the previous 3 weeks.... while the Lagoon pack we saw on the very next day had not been seen for about the same period of time... you just hope luck is with you. The guides at Kwando are amazing, and really go out of their way to find dogs.
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Old Feb 23rd, 2007, 06:22 AM
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Don't you love/hate those night caps?

What an awesome wild dog experience! Lucky you to stay with them all day and see so much. I imagine the attack on the hyena was quite something. As well as he kills. What a great story.

Cindy
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Old Feb 23rd, 2007, 06:30 AM
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Feb 9th

After a well deserved sleep, I was awake early this day, and ready to go. We checked with Lebala, and they indicated that they lost the dogs and were not sure where they were. Russ and I talked, and it was decided to go on the morning game drive in the area, followed by a game drive transfer to Lebala to meet up with my new guide Spencer.

We had a nice drive and saw a lot of the normal game around the area. As mentioned, the grass around Lagoon was quite high, so it did affect the game viewing somewhat. At about 9 am we started our drive the the half way point where Spencer was going to pick me up. At this time the call came through... WILD DOGS, this time the Lagoon pack of 6, had been spotted by a camp employee back at Lagoon. Already knowing my answer, Russ asked me what I wanted to do. Lets go.... again as fast as you can. Holding on for dear life again, we had a relatively quick transfer back to camp where we found the Lagoon pack. They were hanging around, and just relaxing. While we were there, the call came through from the same camp employee, that he found a lioness who was stalking out a tree with some young Baboons in it. Understanding that the dogs probably werent going anywhere, we left and drove over to the lioness. At that time a small baboon jumped from the tree, and was immediately pounced on by the lioness. She dragged her kill into the bushes at the base of the tree... how exciting. The rest of the young baboons in the tree were very scared, and making a lot of noise. The rest of the family were nearby and also making a lot of noise. As the lioness was in the bushes I really couldnt get any good pictures, but we stayed there for a while none the less. Russ figured she would stay here for most of the day, picking off the young baboons as they came down one at a time. We went back to the dogs, and spent about 30 minutes with them as they moved around, and finally found somewhere to relax for the day. We than went back to the lioness and as we got there she had just made a kill, this time of a larger baboon who in its stupidity had come over to help the young baboons in the tree. Meal number 2. Again, once she got her kill into the bushes, she was hard to see. We stayed there for a while, and finally decided to catch up with Spencer.

We made it to the Hippo pond, and I got some great Hippo yawning shots. Spencer showed up with 4 people who were transfering to Lagoon. With regret I said my goodbyes to Russ. He is a great guide, and I would highly recommend him to anyone who goes to Lagoon.
Spencer started off with some jokes, and I knew I would like him right off the bat. After about the 4th bird he pointed to off in the distance, I explained by interests... Dogs, Cheetah, Leopards, Lions, other misc wildlife... finally birds. He laughed, and said ok, we will look for the big guys. On the way to Lebala we checked for tracks, and some the usual misc game.

I was warmly greated at Lebala by Charles and the gang. Charles was taking over for BK, who was off for a couple of days break in Maun. We had a nice breakfast, and I checked into my room. After a nice shower and rest, I relaxed in the bar until our evening game drive. Spencer what I wanted to do, and I said I would like to just go hunting and see what we come across. He joked by pointing out some "birds" for me, and we found some Cheetah tracks. I really like the system at Kwando whereby they have a tracker and a guide. In comparison to the Sanctuary Lodges camps that I visited later on my trip, I found this to be much more effective in finding game.

We followed the Cheetah tracks to find 2 brothers. Spencer told a few stories about Hari, and his love of dogs and cheetahs. The Cheetahs were relaxing and after about 45 minutes, we moved on. Unfortunately we didnt find the dog tracks, or anything else, but we had a nice drive, and told a bunch of stories. Back at camp we had a nice dinner, and I met up with the rest of the group. Another great day with Kwando...

Next up.. the great Cheetah hunt...

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Old Feb 23rd, 2007, 05:55 PM
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Richard- all i can say is- "wow" your sightings are fabulous and each minute seems to be getting better!!!

Look forward to reading about those two cheetah boys.....

Hari

P.S: On the subject of tracking, who is tracking for Spencer at the moment?
 

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