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Trip Report - First Time in Africa for Four Old Friends

Trip Report - First Time in Africa for Four Old Friends

Old Nov 8th, 2010, 08:11 PM
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Trip Report - First Time in Africa for Four Old Friends

The following is an account of what happens when friends for over 50 years spend 18 months planning a three week journey through southern Africa. This is from the daily journal we kept and I tried to remove all the extraneous details but still leave enough for readers to learn about our experiences. The trip was flawless: every accommodation exceeded our expectations; the food was excellent, all the transfers worked like clockwork and the wildlife was abundant and diverse. We loved meeting people from all over the world and the African people who made this all possible were a delight, very knowledgeable, and a pleasure to meet. This trip was just what we wanted - it may not be right for others, but it was right for us. And yes, we do hope to return to Africa!

August 31 and September 1, 2010
We began our journey on August 30th when we met for dinner in Brooklyn and checked into our hotel near JFK airport. On Tuesday we boarded our South African Airways flight at 10:30am and were pleased to see that the flight was not full so we each had room to spread out for the 14 hour flight, our adventure in southern Africa and all the wonderful plans put in place by Michelle at Island-Safari.com.
We arrived in Johannesburg around 8:00 am and proceeded easily through customs and passport control, retrieved our luggage, and found Natasha from Island-Safari waiting to greet us. She walked us to the domestic terminal, all the while providing us with advice and suggestions for the next leg of our journey. After passing through security we had time to visit the shops and do some people watching.
We then boarded the British Airways flight to Livingstone, Zambia. Upon arrival at the airport we purchased double entry visas as we planned to visit the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls and return back to Zambia. We collected our luggage and were met by the driver from Wild Horizons Transfer Company. We drove through Livingstone on our way to the Zambezi Sun Resort and encountered elephants in the scrub just off the road - the first of many elephant encounters.
We arrived at the Zambezi Sun and were greeted by Ngoni dancers. The large central building of the resort opens onto the lawn and paths to the lodgings and pool. We had adjacent rooms, colorfully decorated and very comfortable. We headed out to the trail at the rear of the property which led to Victoria Falls. Although we heard that the Zambian side of the falls is less impressive, our first view of Victoria Falls was spectacular. We walked along the trail and stopped at many viewing points, particularly where we saw a full rainbow over the falls. Back at the hotel we sampled the local beer - Mosi - which was quite good and watched as zebras wandered through the grounds. After dinner on the property we consulted with the Concierge to make arrangements for our trip across the border to Zimbabwe the next day.

September 2, 2010
During the breakfast buffet we watched staff with slingshots trying to keep the vervet monkeys from stealing our food. We had arranged for a taxi driver to pick us up and drive us to the Zambia - Zimbabwe border, then transfer us to another driver on the other side. He waved to his colleague in Zimbabwe and we walked across the border and met our next driver who took us to the Victoria Falls National Park entrance. We entered the park and walked along the path to view the falls. We had the first of many sightings of warthogs rooting for food alongside the trail as we walked to the viewing point of the Victoria Falls Bridge where we watched as bungee jumpers swung from the 364 foot high bridge. Then we returned to the park entrance and asked our driver to take us through the town of Victoria Falls. There is one main road in town lined with stores and shops set back from the road that were not very busy. When we returned to the border crossing our driver again helped us through the process. After we crossed the border we met our Zambian driver to return to the hotel.
At 3:00pm we watched the feeding of the eight zebras and three giraffes which call the hotel grounds home, then had some more Mosi beer at the pool bar. That night we walked to the adjacent and very upscale, elegantly furnished, quiet and reserved Royal Livingstone Hotel for dinner. At the back of the hotel the lawn slopes down to a deck where we saw the waters of the Zambezi before they cascade over Victoria Falls. In the distance we saw the mist silently rising from the falls. We enjoyed an excellent dinner, took the shuttle cart back to our hotel, and listened to a live band playing familiar American tunes before heading back to the rooms to pack for pickup the following morning.

September 3, 2010
We left the Zambezi Sun at 10:30am for the drive to the Kazungula Border post and transferred by boat across the Zambezi River to Botswana. Copper laden trucks, large semis, were lined up on both sides of the road as we approached the border. We were told that the truck drivers could wait up to seven days before loading onto the ferry to cross the river. Our driver dodged in and out of the cars and trucks to the river's edge. He took our passports into the border control building and emerged with our papers intact as there is no visa fee to enter Botswana. Then he pointed towards the water's edge where a small pontoon boat was moored. We got in and motored across the river. We reached the other side, climbed out of the boat onto the river bank and met our next driver who drove us to the Kasane Airport. We noticed immediately the difference in the roads - freshly paved and well maintained in Botswana. At the small airport we were met by the driver from Muchenje Safari Lodge for the 40 minute drive to the lodge.
We arrived at Muchenje Lodge where lunch was waiting for us. The lodge sits on the escarpment overlooking the Chobe River and borders Chobe National Park. There are ten ensuite thatched chalets built out of natural stone, each with a private deck. The deck of the main lodge overlooks the Chobe River plain and animals grazing below. We ate, settled in and at three o'clock we went for our first game drive and experienced our first sundowners.
Our driver, Lips, impressed us with the names of all of the birds and wildlife as we drove in an open vehicle. We saw huge herds of Cape buffalo, elephants, kudu, impala, zebra and the omnipresent vervet monkeys and Chacma baboons. Birds galore! Just before sundown Lips set up a small table and produced wine, beer and snacks as we watched the brilliant sunset. Our only companion on this drive was a quiet British man who, it turned out, was one of the original developers and owners of the camp. He was delighted to see how much we enjoyed our first safari experience. The park closed at 6:30pm and we were back at the Lodge at 7:00pm. After a short orientation where we were given an overview of activities for the next day, we had dinner. During dinner we chatted with the four developers of the lodge and with the local managers.

September 4, 2010
Bill and Birk opted for a game walk early that morning with Jeff. They encountered about 1,200 Cape buffalo at close range! After breakfast we were off on our morning game drive, along with a very quiet trio from Taiwan. We saw ostrich which were there only in the dry season. The highlight of the morning was the family of lions resting under a tree. A large male, a female and a female cub were lolling in the shade not more than 20 feet from our vehicle. We talked softly and snapped as many photos as possible. The only disturbance occurred when the male made a movement towards the female and she hissed and swiped at him - just a moment, then all was calm and quiet.
About noon we stopped at the Serondela picnic site for a delicious lunch of fried chicken, roasted vegetables, quiche and carrot salad. As we drove to the dock for our Chobe River boat ride we saw several giraffe munching on tree tops. During our river cruise we saw many hippos, elephants, buffalo and a wide variety of birds. One elephant actually swam across the river as we cruised by. A Nile crocodile was sunning itself on the river bank but moved lightning fast into the water as the boat approached. After a very rewarding day we returned to the camp for dinner followed by an hour long night drive outside of the park where we spotted a civet, bush babies, and a large spotted genet. All in all, it was a wonderful full day of safari.

September 5, 2010
We left Muchenje after breakfast for the drive back to the Kasane Airport where we met our pilot and squeezed into the first of our six charter flights for the 1.5 hour flight to Pom Pom Camp. We were welcomed to the camp with singing, a cool drink, a brief orientation, and the admonition not to walk about after dark without an escort. After lunch we relaxed and then met for tea. Partner was our guide for the three days of our stay and he was wonderful. We climbed into the vehicle and went out for a late afternoon game drive and sundowner. After several hours of animal and bird viewing, we returned for dinner and were escorted back to our tents by 10:00pm; the lights remained on for only 30 minutes after that. Each night we heard the very loud roars of hippos in the lagoon just outside of our tents. In the morning we saw hippo tracks around our tents.

September 6, 2010
We were up at 7:00am for a quick continental breakfast. At 8:00am each couple got into a mokoro boat (dugout canoe) for a ride through the waterways - or the hippo highway - as our polers, Dalton and Gully called it. The focus was on finding tiny reed frogs, flowers and birds. We stopped at a small island for the mid-morning snack and we returned to the camp for lunch and rest time. It was quite warm so we hung out in the lounge where the cross breeze was better. After tea we went on our afternoon game drive. Partner gave us a detailed description of the termite mounds. During the game drive we encountered several families of elephant and zebra. After the sundowner break, our vehicle got stuck in the mud near one of the mopane bridges! We thought we were going to have to get out and wade to the dry land. Luckily we were traveling in tandem with another vehicle which had made it through the water hazard. It was fascinating to watch the process to extricate our vehicle. The guides waded in, jacked up the vehicle, gathered and broke off tree branches to wedge under the tires until they were able to get enough traction for the front vehicle to pull us out. Shortly we were on our way back to the lodge when we spotted a female leopard in the grass. Even with the vehicle's lights shining on her she sat still and stayed where we could get a good view and take great nighttime photos. Who knows, if we hadn't been delayed, we might have missed the opportunity to experience such a sighting.

September 7, 2010
After breakfast we started another full day of activities at Pom Pom where we did both early morning and late afternoon game drives. Morning excitement started with a flat tire which Partner changed quickly and he radioed for a replacement tire to be driven out to us. Shortly a truck appeared with two spare tires which were loaded onto our vehicle. As we approached a group of belligerent elephants we had another flat tire so one of the spare tires was put to immediate use. Even though we saw lion tracks, Partner was unable to get a sighting.
In between the two drives we spent our time in the main lodge building visiting with our fellow guests who included a group of eight from Charlotte, NC who left in that afternoon, Sharon and Bob from Texas, four women from Australia, and Boris and Katherine, a young couple from Munich, Germany. During the two game drives we saw a wide variety of birds (16 different species) and animals: giraffe, baboon, tsessebe, buffalo, zebra, impala, and of course, more elephants. That evening during the night drive back to the camp, we spotted a serval in the brush which was stalking an impala - it was another great sighting. We finished off the day by finding the den of a group of spotted hyena. Our favorite bird sighting was the saddle-billed stork with its bright patches of red and yellow.

September 8, 2010
We went for our last game drive at Pom Pom before moving on to our next destination. Partner was confident he could find the female leopard we had seen two nights earlier so we started tracking her. We reached a wide grassy plain and he saw her tracks. As we drove in circles through the high grass he showed us how he could trace her movements. Suddenly, there she was, perched on a small dead tree trunk, posing as if we were from the National Geographic. It was a beautiful sighting and a great end to our stay at Pom Pom. We returned to camp for lunch, packed up, relaxed in the lodge before we drove to the airstrip for our next charter flight to Sanctuary Lodge's Baines Camp, also in the Okavango Delta. We were met at the airstrip by Kot and Keizer, our guide and tracker for the duration of our stay at Baines. We had been told the ride to the camp from the airstrip was about 1.5 hours. Not too bad, one might think. However, it was as difficult a ride as you could image. We counted the water hazards two days later - we crossed water 30 times. These were not just small flooded areas on the road; there were numerous times we had to lift our feet as the vehicle plunged into water which flowed into the vehicle and up to the top of the hood. By the time we got to the camp we were all exhausted from the ride.
The five large suites of Baines Camp are set on elevated platforms among the trees and are surrounded by the Okavango Delta. The lodge offers views over the Boro River and a lagoon teeming with life. The suites feature four-poster beds which are fully mobile, giving guests the choice of sleeping under the stars. It was nice to have electricity all day in our suite to charge our electronics gear. Bathrobes and slippers were also provided - a very nice touch. The camp is situated on a private concession neighboring the Moremi Game Reserve.
We were again greeted with singing and welcomed by the managers, Jean and Frances, given a brief orientation and refreshments, then escorted to our rooms. We were in the suites named Zanjueelah, the boatman of the rapids and Dinaka. We went for a boat ride in the lagoon adjacent to the camp to an area where herons and egrets were roosting and building nests. We enjoyed our sundowner on the boat and then headed back to the camp in the darkness. There were just 8 guests for dinner that evening. Despite the fact that we walked along an elevated boardwalk to reach our rooms, we were escorted after dinner. Birk and Willis chose to sleep under the stars both nights and Bill and Karen could see their mosquito netted bed on their deck. Baines was far more luxurious than we expected. The small intimate nature of the lodge gave us ample opportunities to learn about life in Botswana, about the birds of the delta, and tidbits about plant life from our guide, Kot. We also enjoyed in-depth conversations with our four fellow guests from England and Germany.

September 9, 2010
We were up at 6:30am with coffee, tea and biscuits brought to the room. We went for another boat ride, threading our way through the narrow channels of the lagoons. The water is very clear and there were patches of water lilies which the African Jacana walked on - thus its name the lily trotter. We stopped for our snack on an island under a sausage tree, being careful not to be hit by one of the sausage fruits which can weigh up to several pounds. Kot told us about his extended family describing how each member chooses an animal to represent his family. He chose the elephant since he had a strong mother and no father. So - here we are on an island in the Okavango Delta partaking of French press coffee, hot chocolate and cakes while learning so many aspects of life in Botswana!
We returned to camp for lunch and a rest, and then set out on a late afternoon drive. The highlight of this drive was watching for a long time a small clan of hyena cubs as they played around and under our vehicles; the mothers were no where in sight. We returned to camp and were greeted with hot chocolate and warm towels. We had another excellent dinner with options that ranged from kudu curry to fresh water fish to chicken.

September 10, 2010
We were up early and left Baines at 7:30 am for the 90 minute bone jarring and wet drive back to the airstrip where we met by our pilot for the short 20 minute hop to the Maun Airport. We were met by a porter and taken into the terminal to find our pilot for the next leg to Windhoek, Namibia. This charter replaced the scheduled Air Namibia flight on which we could only confirm three seats when we needed four. This was to be a 2.5 hour flight and we were not looking forward to being stuffed into the small airplane for such a long time, but no choice.
When we arrived at the Windhoek airport we had some difficulty in finding the entrance to the immigration entry point. The door to the arrival area was locked and we had to get someone to open it. We entered the terminal and found our driver who transported us for our one night stay. The drive from Windhoek airport was a drastic change from our previous transfers. Here we were on a four lane highway and entered a large city as we made our way to the Olive Grove Guesthouse, a small accommodation with 12 rooms. The rooms featured concrete bed stands, concrete bathroom sinks, concrete tubs and concrete showers. We settled in and had a nice dinner on the patio served from the open kitchen. We confirmed our very early departure for the next day and retired for a comfortable sleep undisturbed by hippo or elephants during the night.

September 11, 2010
We met our pilot Stefan at the Eros Airport before 8:00am. Our aerial view of Windhoek revealed a large metropolitan city with brightly colored homes. The city is surrounded however by rough mountain ranges and very inhospitable terrain. About an hour later we landed at the airstrip in the desert and were met by our guide William for the half hour drive to the Kulala Desert Lodge. Our vehicle now changed from open to closed due to the blowing desert sand. On the way we saw our first springbok and ostrich were also in abundance. The oryx was by far the most majestic of the desert animals with their long, spear-like horns. When we arrived at the lodge the manager, Korbus, was there to greet us with cold drinks which were much appreciated even though it was before 10:00am.
We had lunch, settled in our rooms and met at 5:00pm for the late afternoon nature drive. It was hot! Our guide, William, was of the Namas tribe of bushmen and he taught us about desert plants, his click language and the geology of the ancient desert. That afternoon we viewed the large nests that the sociable weavers build in the desert trees. The nest hung from the tree and was about 6 feet in length. Up to 150 birds may use a nest of this size for several years until the nest becomes so heavy that it falls from the tree. We enjoyed our sundowner in the desert with a magnificent sunset and returned to the lodge for dinner at 8:00pm.

September 12, 2010
We were up early for the 7:00am drive to the Namib Naukluft Park and the Sossusvlei dunes. The landscape continuously changed colors from yellow to gold to ocher to rose, purple and deep red. Each dune was precisely cut by the winds and as we drove William pointed out each one by name and origin. We parked and joined other tourists in walking on Dune 45. Birk made it up the highest and it was a hard slog through the soft sand. The photography was wonderful.
Further on we followed a desolate path to a dry river bed dotted with ancient dead trees known as Deadvlei. The ladies decided to sit on the last dune and watch as the men descended onto the dry pan. We were amused by a Chinese couple with multiple cameras and tripods. The man pulled out a Chinese flag and placed it beside himself for a photo, as if claiming the land. Next we walked up a small dune where William rubbed a small magnet through the sand and showed us how much iron filings were scattered in the sand. It was really HOT! We had a picnic lunch under the trees while watching people climb Big Daddy, one of the highest dunes in the world. William did not think they should have been climbing then since it was the hottest part of the day. Then it was time for the leisurely return drive back to the lodge.
For the rest of the afternoon we cooled off at the pool, or we showered and or we lay on our beds to rest - all attempts to cool off. The temperature in our tents was over 100 degrees and the beds were actually hot to the touch! Late in the afternoon we went back into the park and headed for Sesriem Canyon. During the drive we noticed the circles in the sand where none of the scrub grass grew. They are known as fairy circles but there are many stories as to their origin. Once again the ladies opted to decline the opportunity to walk into the canyon. Evidently the guys decided that we had made a wise choice as the path was narrow and slippery. The canyon over time was cut by wind and water; it is two miles long and about 100 feet deep. During the drive back towards the lodge we enjoyed our sundowner with another spectacular desert sunset. We returned to the lodge after dark for dinner and the staff entertained the guests with native dancing and singing as a delightful ending to our day in the desert.

September 13, 2010
Another early morning: we packed up our duffels again, and William drove us to the airstrip to meet our pilot for the return trip to Windhoek. Since there were springbok frolicking on the runway, William drove us up and down the strip beeping the horn to move the animals from the airstrip. Stefan arrived and prior to loading our luggage and us into the small plane, our last charter flight, he checked the fuel level in each wing. He was satisfied with the fuel level so we climbed in and hunkered down for the 1.5 hour trip to Windhoek International Airport. We checked in for our scheduled Air Namibia flight to Cape Town which seemed very luxurious after our six tiny charter flights.
We arrived in Cape Town and were met by our guide, Andy Rice, and his driver. We checked into the Waterfront Village Apartments and reveled in the spacious, air conditioned accommodations. Our two bedroom apartment looked out at the Cape Grace Hotel and the Victoria and Albert Waterfront - a beautiful view of the marina and waterway. We freshened up and went for a walk through the waterfront shops and restaurants. We had snacks on the patio at Tasca and bought some nibbles and breakfast foods at the grocery store before we headed back to the apartment. That evening we enjoyed a nice dinner at the Sevruga restaurant on the waterfront.

September 14, 2010
Andy picked us up early in the morning and we went directly to Table Mountain. After we purchased our tickets for the gondola ride we went into the waiting area along with a noisy school group on a field trip until we entered the large gondola, which held about 50 people. We rode to the top and spent an hour exploring the various paths and overlooks. Although it was very windy and cold the sun was out and the view of the city and waterfront was spectacular. At one overlook we peeked over the wall and saw a cute Rock Hyrox or Dassie sitting comfortably on a ledge below. We took the gondola back down and Andy drove us to Signal Hill. During our stop at Signal Hill we observed a gathering of brightly clothed women celebrating a life event - Andy thought perhaps an upcoming wedding. Also, as we looked back towards Table Mountain, we saw that clouds now enveloped the mountain. The gondola closes when the fog and mist roll in so we were glad we were there early. Then Andy dropped us at Kirstenbosch Gardens.
We arrived at Kirstenbosch Gardens and bought tickets for the last afternoon tour of the gardens. Before the tour we walked through the gardens to the tea room and had lunch. The weather was deteriorating and it was good to be inside for a hot meal. Then we meandered along the garden paths to the starting point for the guided tour. Our guide on the golf cart tour was Howard, a passionate student of the garden. We enjoyed his commentary on the vegetation and birds we encountered. The array of pin cushion proteas was particularly beautiful. We would later see them growing wild along the drive to the Cape. After the 90 minute tour we took a taxi back to our apartment - chilled and a little wet. That evening we ate at the City Grille and Greek Fisherman, a combination restaurant on the waterfront.

September 15, 2010
Andy picked us up around 8:30am for our drive to the Cape Peninsula. We drove along the coastline through the southern suburbs where Andy regaled us with stories of baboons coming off the mountain and prowling through the neighborhoods. We followed the coastline of False Bay, named by early navigators who mistook it for the safe harbor at Cape Town. The bay is a favorite haunt for the Southern Right Whales and we were fortunate to spot some whales spouting and diving. We stopped in Fish Hoek, a popular bathing resort. This village is surrounded by mountains and boasts one of the safest swimming beaches with colorful Victorian bathing boxes.
Next stop was Simon's Town for coffee and hot chocolate at Bertha's where Andy told us about his background. He had served in the South African army and found it was not easy for ex-military to get civilian jobs. He decided to go into tourism and educated himself for that vocation. Just south of Simon's Town is Boulders Beach, home to a colony of African Penguins. Although the park is in the middle of a residential area, the penguins roam freely within the protected environment. The area comprises a number of small bays, partially enclosed by granite boulders. The penguins were very cooperative and posed for the many photos everyone was taking. We wandered through the park and saw some new birds, as well as an oystercatcher on a distant rocky outcropping.
We continued down the coast into Cape of Good Hope Park. Here we saw fields of indigenous flowering plants, several Bontebok, the masked antelope which is only found on the Cape Peninsula, a herd of Eland in the distance and the ubiquitous ostrich. We stopped at the Black Rock viewing area and then we continued on to Cape Point where we ate lunch and rode the funicular up the side of the cliff. The view of the ocean was awesome; however, we elected not to make the final climb on foot to the lighthouse structure. We returned to our van and headed for the most southwestern point of the African continent. We returned to Cape Town via Chapman's Peak Drive, a spectacular five mile route, with 114 curves that skirt the rocky coastline of Chapman's Peak. The drive was at its best at sunset. We drove through Camp's Bay, returned to our apartment after 6:00pm, and again ate dinner at the waterfront.

September 16, 2010
Andy's driver picked us up early for the 1.5 hour South African Airways flight to Durban. We arrived in Durban and were glad we had opted for a driver and road transfer, rather than a small charter flight to Phinda, as the weather was rainy and overcast. We met our driver, loaded our duffels into the van and set out for the three hour drive to Phinda. We passed fields of sugar cane, pineapple and eucalyptus trees, the primary agricultural exports of this area. The trees are planted in neat rows and grow quickly for use in the manufacture of high quality paper. During the drive the roads went from four lanes, to three lanes, to two lanes, and finally to a dirt road as we made our way to the Phinda Vlei Lodge.
Upon our arrival we were greeted by the manager, Natalie, had an orientation and snacks, and shown to our rooms. The accommodations were in six elevated glass and thatch suites. Each air conditioned suite had an ensuite bathroom which included a free standing tub, a beautiful stone and glass shower open to the vlei, a walk in closet, and a private plunge pool. The wood finish was extraordinary. Each suite at the lodge had a view of the vlei, the open meadow, where animals roamed freely - even drinking from our private pools.
We meet our guide Martin and tracker Josiah for the afternoon drive. It was pouring rain! This was the first vehicle we had without a canvas top so we were given rubber rain ponchos and off we went. Our first encounter was with a herd of elephants of all ages lumbering through the brush and crossing the road right in front of us. At times we were nearly surrounded by elephants. We watched two young male elephants jousting with their tusks and trumpeting at close range. We saw our first nyala, yet another form of antelope. Phinda has the largest herd of nyala in a private reserve. We caught glimpses of a red duiker and a white tailed mongoose, wildebeests, groups of zebra, and two male cheetah resting after a kill. We returned to the lodge to dry out, warm up and clean up before an excellent dinner where we met our fellow guests: a couple from Johannesburg and two couples from southern California.

September 17, 2010
The sun was shining but it was quite cold as we left for our early morning drive. Early on we spied a cheetah lying on a termite mound. Then we realized there were two cheetahs resting on the mound and they were most likely the same two we had seen the night before. Then we came upon a lioness and three cubs resting in the shade, obviously sated with a recent kill. The cubs were so tired that they could barely keep their heads up and their eyes open. At one point the lioness ambled over to the nearby water hole for a quick drink before she returned to the shade and promptly dozed off. It must have been their favorite hangout since scattered around were remains of recent, and not so recent, kills. Next we watched a baboon selecting and eating fruit from the monkey orange tree with a nyala waiting patiently below for the remnants. We saw our first white rhinos, completing the big five. There were four of them off at some distance standing side to side and front to back in pairs.
We returned to camp for breakfast and asked Martin to walk us across the vlei to the Forest Lodge which was the lodge we originally booked prior to the upgrade to Phinda Vlei. We walked around and visited the curio shop where we made a few purchases. On the way back to our lodge, we stopped for a lesson on the dung beetle and termite mound activity.
We met at 3:00 pm for the afternoon drive and were barely on the road before we saw a herd of elephants cautiously cross the vlei to one of the lodges at Phinda Vlei. The elephants drank from the pool, and pulled out the pool vacuum hose and threw it in the air. We stayed there quite a while watching the behavior of the herd of about a dozen animals of all ages and sizes. There were several babies, even one nursing at the edge of the trees. Eventually we drove off but continued to see this group throughout our drive. Next sighting was a group of six relatively young rhinos who were having a delightful time wallowing in the mud. Before seeing the rhino we watched a family of giraffe parade in single file on the road in front of us. After our sundowner we found spotted hyena in their den. The last sighting was of a flapped neck chameleon which Josiah spotted as we drove by in the dark. It was such an astonishing find that we thought it was planted there! Back at the lodge we ate another wonderful meal and a good night's sleep in our luxurious rooms.

September 18, 2010
Today we headed south over very rocky and steep terrain. Several hippos were in a water hole near the road along with an assortment of birds. We also watched pregnant zebra searching for nibbles on the dry brush. Of course we also saw giraffe and a wealth of birds on the drive over the rough terrain. We stopped near a large herd of cape buffalo resting alongside a few warthogs and the ever present red billed ox peckers in abundance. On the drive back we saw two very lazy white rhino resting in the dust and we realized how large an animal they were.
After we ate a bountiful breakfast, the boys opted for a mid-day walk with Martin and his walking stick, i.e. his rifle. They drove to a spot, walked some distance and quietly watched rhinos at very close range. It was a very hot day and when they returned to the lodge they really enjoyed the air conditioning. While they walked in the bush the ladies relaxed and watched the wildlife at our pools and on the vlei. At 4:00 pm we met for our last safari drive. As night was falling, the call went out from others that two cheetahs had been spotted on the prowl and hunting. We converged on the spot and followed them as they stalked their prey, an impala. The actual kill happened so fast that nobody was able to capture the action but it was an amazing event and a fitting end to our trip. On the ride back, in the dark, we saw rhinos with their young but we could not stop talking about the cheetah kill we had witnessed.
Once back at the lodge dinner was served on the deck - wonderful as usual with a spotted genet watching us from a tree. Around 10:00pm we retired to our suites to pack and get ready for the long journey home. Waiting for us in our suites we found a bottle of champagne, candles burning, and of all things a bubble bath! We finished our packing and easily fell asleep after our last day on safari - without the help of champagne and bubble bath!

September 19, 2010
We were up at dawn and watched birds drinking from the pools and nyala on the vlei. We had breakfast on the deck, with staff nearby to shoo the vervet monkeys away. Two nyala males entertained us as they pranced and postured. It was quite a show and a fitting end to our safari experience. We were collected by our driver for the ride to Richard's Bay airport. We arrived at the airport, checked in for our last internal flight to Johannesburg.
Since we had several hours prior to the flight to JFK, we loaded our duffels and backpacks on a cart and set out to find a place sit - not an easy task. We spent the time updating our list of bird sightings, downloading pictures to the laptop and recalling all we had experienced. We checked in for the flight, passed through immigration and security into the international terminal. We tried to collect the VAT refund but we were told that the VAT did not apply to meals and that we had to show all items listed so, we gave up. We shopped in the Out of Africa store and had a mediocre meal in a typical airport restaurant before we proceeded to the gate, only to encounter more security to get into the seating area. We had to show our tickets and passports, and then we were patted down. We boarded SSA #203 and were pleased that the plane was not full so we could spread out again. After eight hours we stopped in Dakar, Senegal to re-fuel and discharge and take on passengers. A security detail came on board and searched the plane before we could take off as required by US TSA rules.
We were soon on our way again and arrived at JFK around 7:00am on September 20th - a few minutes early and 28 hours after we left Phinda Vlei! We went through US passport control, customs and on to baggage claim. The New Jersey contingent called for a shuttle pick up and we left to wait for our flight back to LA. We were happy to be home and looked forward to sharing memories of our spectacular trip. Bill and Karen arrived home in New Jersey by 11:00am and we were back home in California about nine hours later - the end of the flawless journey we shared to Southern Africa.
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Old Nov 8th, 2010, 08:12 PM
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Sorry folks! I really did have paragraph indents!!!
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Didn't finish the whole report, but will tomorrow. Glad you had the trip you wanted and that everything went perfectly.
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Old Nov 9th, 2010, 01:04 AM
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Well detailed report which I'm still reading, but may not get to finish until tomorrow. I'm impressed by the details you included and it sounds like a great trip. (I'm up to the end of Pom Pom Camp).
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Old Nov 9th, 2010, 05:10 AM
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wow, what a trip!! thanks for sharing.
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Old Nov 9th, 2010, 05:53 AM
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Amazing trip - thank you so much for your report.
And there are visual breaks in the text so it's not that hard to read without all of your paragraph indents!
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Old Nov 9th, 2010, 07:58 AM
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Really enjoyed the report! Will be in Phinda next year late Sept. How did you think Forest Lodge compared to Vlei? Do you think we could enjoy watching animals in the afternoons at Forest, as you did at Vlei?
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Old Nov 9th, 2010, 08:54 AM
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The suites at Forest Lodge are surrounded by the trees of the sand forest whereas the suites at Vlei looked out onto the open space where the animals did congregate. I don't think you would see as much wildlife from your suite in Forest as we did in Vlei. When we walked about Forest it seemed much darker due to the trees. It's a much bigger lodge and the facilities looked very nice. Ours was a surprise upgrade so we took it!
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Old Nov 9th, 2010, 09:14 AM
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I am a newbie here and just wanna say Hi to everyone. I am Daniel from Pennsylvania, US.

free photoshop tutorials
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Old Nov 9th, 2010, 11:13 AM
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To complete the package of our visit to southern Africa here is a link to the photo books made from the photos we took. There is a large format book of photos, a smaller book of the narrative, and a book for kids on the animals we encountered - - almost A to Z. Enjoy!
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Old Nov 9th, 2010, 12:30 PM
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jeep61, you put a lot of effort into those photo books and the results are great! Love all the bird photos. You really had some excellent sightings! Great trip report too, thanks for sharing. Makes me wanna pack right now and go on another trip! (In fact, I will be going on a trip again next week - Tanzania and Zanzibar. Will post a report when I get back)
@daniel, welcome to fodors
Onne from Wild Wings Safaris
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Old Nov 11th, 2010, 04:37 PM
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Great report - love the level of detail you provided.

Your picture books are excellent - love the idea of the kids book - what a great Christmas present!

Thanks for posting.
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Old Nov 11th, 2010, 10:01 PM
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I'm up to Baines. What a wonderful way to enjoy Africa--with friends of 50 years.

The Chobe River Cruise always impresses. A swimming ele would be a highlight. The serval you saw stalking the impala must have had eyes bigger than its stomach, unless it was a very young impala. Hyena cubs are some of my favorite.

Interesting our days in Africa in Sept were exactly the same, but I was in Kenya.

Looking forward to the rest of your report.
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Old Nov 14th, 2010, 06:56 PM
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What a great description of your wonderful trip. We plan our next African adventure to be a return to Southern Africa. This just whets our appetite!!
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Old Nov 14th, 2010, 07:26 PM
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Hi Jeep61
What a great report, long but worth reading and you do not have a lot of excess info! I am into the gameviewing not minor stuff!
I shall look at the photo books next! You are lucky to have very like-minded friends to travel with you.
You did do a lot of internal plane trips which is what I used to do, but these days I tend to stay in the one camp for 4 weeks!
Better start planning the next one!

Kind regards

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