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Trip Report: July/Aug 2005 Cape Town; South Luangwa; Lower Zambezi

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Aug 17th, 2005, 10:16 AM
  #1
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Trip Report: July/Aug 2005 Cape Town; South Luangwa; Lower Zambezi

I started my trip report on my Back from SA and Zambia thread, but it seems to be well hidden. So, apologies for any confusion and for the repetition, but a new thread seemed to be a good idea.

Photos can be found at: http://www.kodakgallery.com/I.jsp?c=...&x=0&y=-xeztea

There are about 250 photos - some from a digital snapshot camera and some from film.

I've started the trip report in installments and will repeat the first two installments here. I'll continue with the new installments on this thread.

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Aug 17th, 2005, 10:18 AM
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Here's the itinerary:
Hippo Boutique Hotel - Cape Town (3)
Airport Holiday Inn - JNB (1)
Kafunta River Lodge - South Luangwa (3)
Island Bush Camp - South Luangwa (2)
Chongwe River Camp - Lower Zambezi (3)
Westcliff - JNB (1)

O.k., here we go. Installment #1 of the trip report. I haven't written any more, so it may be a little while between sections. Also, this is my first trip report, so go easy please!

The AA flight LAX to LHR had a 2/5/2 configuration. I took my luggage carry-on and wasn’t asked to weigh it. I boarded my flight somewhat awkwardly, carrying my main bag (12ish kg) and my “carry on” bag (4ish kg), doing my best to look like the duffel and day pack I was lugging down the aisle were really as light as air. I safely reached the seat without the mighty hand of a flight attendant determining I was carrying too much luggage, slide happily into my window seat (safe!) and realized that 1/3 of the under seat space was taken up with entertainment unit equipment (yikes!). And, there wasn’t a divider for the under seat space (this is mine, that is yours). As the stranger who would become my traveling companion for the next 12 hours sniffled his way down the aisle and into the seat next to me, I searched wildly for another place to sit. As my new best friend wiped his nose on his sleeve a new seat became an imperative. The flight wasn’t completely full, so after takeoff I moved to a new seat and (with many thanks to Ambien) dozed throughout the flight.

I had several hours in London before the next flight but had decided to not go into town, but rather to lurk around the airport. It took a full hour to transfer from Terminal 3 through the airport connections to Terminal 1. I was flying BA business (FF) to JNB, so went into the BA departure lounge to shower, get on e-mail, etc. While I was there I also changed my seat assignment for my return flight on AA to an inside aisle seat – no entertainment unit under seat! Just before my flight I had a 20 minute massage in the Moulton Brown spa in the lounge, ahhhh.

We left late from LHR and arrived late in JNB – a passenger had checked luggage in for the flight, but didn’t board. Otherwise, the flight from LHR to JNB was uneventful. I was in the upper deck in a window seat. The seats on BA fully recline so all looked well for a nice night of sleep. Dinner was great – a salmon starter and prawn marsala for the main course. And, La Motte Chardonnay to warm me up for SA wines! Somehow, I still couldn’t sleep well (the wine?).

I arrived in JNB and was meet by the go2africa representative with my air tickets for my flights JNB/CPT/JNB, the transfer vouchers and the hotel vouchers. He showed me where the hotel shuttles were for the Airport Holiday Inn and then walked me up to the domestic terminal.

It was a while before my 13:35 Nationwide flight to Cape Town, so I wandered over to the SAA representatives to ask about the strike and the status of flights from JNB to Lusaka. Since these were the domestic terminal representatives, they didn’t know much, but said that most flights were cancelled – it was now Tuesday and I was going to be flying SAA on Saturday… Uh oh. I got on the phone to Sunvil and asked them to check out some alternatives for flights in case SAA still wasn’t flying. Also, used the airport internet – ½ hour for R30, 1 hour for R50, but a slow connection.

I checked my duffel into the flight, but carried my day pack. Nationwide didn’t weigh the day pack. The Nationwide flight from JNB to CPT served a hot lunch! Flying in the States, I’ve become so used to snacks (peanuts, pretzels, are they all made by the same factory?) and bringing my own lunch that a hot lunch was a real surprise. This flight also arrived late. As I waited for my duffel to arrive I was glad that it was a blue duffel rather than something a little more common. As the fifth blue duffel arrived I had to re-assess! My bag was the 8th blue duffel.

I had booked a transfer from the airport to the hotel with go2africa and he was there, front and center, to meet me and drive me to the Hippo Boutique Hotel in Gardens.

Up next, 3 Days in Cape Town.
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Aug 17th, 2005, 10:19 AM
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Installment #2, Cape Town

It was a fairly short ride from the airport to the hotel, about 20 minutes. I had originally looked at either the Mount Nelson, since they had a great promotional winter rate, or the Arabella Sheraton (using points). I decided on the Hippo Boutique Hotel because it sounded as though restaurants, etc. were easily accessible as was the city area. The Hippo is a few blocks away from the Mount Nelson. Even with a single supplement, the room rate was around $100/night.

I checked into the Hippo and was shown to my room (#10?). Reception personnel were very friendly and ready to help. The window for my room looked out onto the side of the building and the driveway access to the under building garage parking. It had seemed that this might get noisy, but it didn’t. The rooms located in the front of the building, looking out onto Park Rd, did get noisy from cars, restaurants, etc. There were three restaurants downstairs, Greens, Simply Asia and Figaro (on the ground floor of the building, but not “hotel” restaurants). After settling in, I ate at Greens – my waitress said that the most popular dish was the chicken, brie and cranberry (Thanksgiving?!) pizza so I gave that a try. The pizza was very good, the crust was more similar to the tortilla than a “typical” pizza crust. With two glasses of white wine, the total was R98. After all of the travel and wine, I collapsed in the room by 8pm.

The Hippo has a computer with internet access in each room. This unit provides radio, TV and DVD as well. The Hippo had a laundry service not included in the room rates – some sample prices are: Trousers R18, T-Shirt R12.50, Socks R4.5. Laundry in by 9am, back same evening. Airport transfers booked through the Hippo were R160. The Hippo had a very modern feel, streamlined furnishing, laminate floors, etc. Individual temperature controls in the room, but still the floors were cold and the Hippo provided slippers. The bathroom had an opaque fixed window in the shower that was located along the interior corridor and I had the uncomfortable feeling that once the window was steamy, it was no longer opaque.

It rained overnight, but the next morning had clear blue skies. The next morning I had coffee and a muffin (R25) around the corner at a people watching mecca – Vida Café, then back to the hotel to call a cab to the waterfront (R42). I obsessively read the business page to find that the SAA strike was still on, so another call to Sunvil…. Sunvil reserved a Nationwide flight to Livingstone and an Airwaves flight from Livingstone to Lusaka – which would then meet up with my other arrangements. It would have to be paid for by Friday if the strike was still on.

I finally got down to the watch tower and gateway to Robben Island by 11. The 12pm boat to Robben Island was already full, so I booked space on the 1PM (R150). There was also a winter special for the 9AM boat of R60. The boat ride was about ½ hour through choppy seas. By the end, the seasickness bags were in full use. Once we arrived I got on the first bus, which was the first bus that departed on the tour. The tour guide was engaging, but a little sassy with a blatant (and successful) bid for tips at the end of the bus tour.

The prison tour guide was an ex political prisoner Benjamin. He conveyed such acceptance of the past and reconciliation of the present and future. With the years he spent in the small, cold, dank prison his ability to focus on the future was surprising and hopeful. After the tour I had time to walk the penguin boardwalk to see penguins.

Back at the Waterfront I wandered around the “Sail at the Waterfront” (Sale! Yeah! Luggage restrictions! Boo Hoo) finally buying a bracelet. (light and easily wearable for the flights!). Then I wandered around some more trying the find the Cape Grace to see about a dinner reservation at one.waterfront (yes, I have heard of the invention called a telephone, but I was at the waterfront!). Since I couldn’t get a reservation until quite late, I went back to the Hippo by cab (R45) and had dinner at Kitima, just a couple of blocks from the Hippo. Kitima was trendy (white furniture, white floors, colored lights) but good food. Red chicken curry and two glasses of the house red were R84.

The next day was a guided wine tour with Gourmet Wine Tours, Stephen is the guide. (Listed in Fodors.) So first thing, around the corner for a cashpoint, coffee from Mugg & Bean, and back to the hotel to meet Stephen. Stephen had planned the day to take into account my like for chardonnay, cabernet & merlot (no comments from the Sideways fans please!) and my interest in trying some Pinotage. So, we went to: De Meye; Beyerskloof for the pinotage; Rustenberg; Stoney Brook a small and friendly winery where some Australian wine producers were tasting and comparing their issues (birds, kangaroos & wallabies!) with the South Africa issues (birds and baboons!). We were running a little early for our lunch reservations, so we also stopped into Tokara (Stellenbosch) for an olive oil tasting.
Lunch was at Haute Cabriere. The day was beautiful and sunny so outdoor seating was available, but since the restaurant is known for its indoor cellar feel, I chose indoors, then got the best of both since we had a window view table. A glass of Haute Cabriere brut and the prawn and chorizo sausage risotto were fantastic, followed by an incredible hot chocolate tart. (R125) Yum. Steven had caught on that I liked chocolate, so after lunch we drove through Franschhoek and popped into Huguenot Fine Chocolates where despite the oh so onerous luggage restrictions I went ahead and bought a couple small boxes of chocolates as gifts. After lunch we finished up tasting at Plaisir de Merle and Glen Carlou. There were so many incredible wines I just wished I could start boxing them up and shipping them home! On the way back to the hotel, Steven detoured into Observatory so I could see if I could remember where I had lived over 15 years ago. I didn’t see the house, but did still recognize a few main intersections and one restaurant – Pancho’s.

For my last day in Cape Town, and my first cloudy day there, I had no big plans beyond an airport transfer around 4. So I meandered down from the Hippo to the Government Mall and Greenmarket Square. I bought a few knick knacky souvenirs and kept walking down to the train station/ bus station to wander around. I crossed one street and turned a corner and almost ran right into a uniformed security/police? officer wearing a bullet proof vest and holding some sort of assault rifle at the ready. I moved out of his way (really quickly!)

I walked on to the Castle (R20) and got there just in time for a public tour, then wandered the bastions until time for the key ceremony and the noon cannon firing. The cannon was laughingly small (see photos) – until they set it off. Then it was all sound and fury. Finally lunch at the waterfront followed by a cab back to the hotel (R54 – took the long way!). Go2africa had requested late check-out on my behalf, which I thought I had confirmed that morning, but somehow there was a mix-up. I walked into “my” room and my things were gone and someone else’s bag was on the floor. A small panic attack and I dashed to the front desk. They had my things, most of which had already been packed, and gave me another room for the time until my transfer.

Next: Overnight in JNB and Going to Zambia!

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Aug 18th, 2005, 08:21 AM
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In Transit to Zambia

The SAA strike had ended and I had cancelled my reservations to Lusaka via Livingstone, so uh oh at the airport when I found that about ½ of the SAA flights out of Cape Town were cancelled. I flew Nationwide CPT to JNB, again the flight was delayed, this time about 1 hour. (Again, they didn’t weigh the carry on.) Stayed overnight at the Airport Holiday Inn – a little dated and worn (see photos), but they are in the process of a renovation. Great breakfast buffet included in room rate.

FINALLY, the long awaited trip to Lusaka and SAA was fully back in business and the timing couldn’t have been better! Again checked the main bag and the carry on wasn’t weighed although at this point I’m expecting to get to the Airwaves counter and have them gasp in shock and amazement at the excess weight. At this point I’ve tried to leave a few things behind, but think I’m still slightly over the 12 kg limit. Images of myself wading through my bags with an explosion of clothes and a line of people behind me asking, “didn’t she READ all of the papers she got?!”

The SAA flight was on time and they served a snacky kind of sandwich and drinks. I treated myself with an Amarula and settled in with my book…. But my pet peeve was sitting next to me, The Talker. The Talker turned out to be a journalist and a good conversationalist. We arrived in Lusaka and The Talker skated through immigration in the VIP line. Kafunta had sent a visa waiver letter to me, which I presented to immigration. Immigration in turn paged through a thick 3 ring binder looking for a duplicate that was sent to them…. Why they might not honor the letter became clear as they went through page after page after page. They found the matching letter and waived the fee.

I was to be met by Airwaves and escorted to the domestic terminal, but no one was there. It was pretty easy to figure out where to go and any number of people were very willing to help with pointing out the specific office. Once there, Airwaves initially had no record of me (sinking feeling of doom), but found my ticket and all was well. Again, the carry-on wasn't weighed. The flight to Mfuwe was running a little late, but otherwise uneventful and not at all full – perhaps 8 people on the flight with a pilot, co-pilot and attendant. The transfer from Mfuwe to Kafunta River Lodge was 45 minutes and I arrived at Kafunta around 4:15. The first night didn’t start out very promising, as I had arrived too late to take part in the evening safari activities. After killing time for a few hours I went to the bar for pre-dinner, but no bar staff was around so I sat with a book waiting for wine. To make me whine, two kids (12ish?) were running wildly around the bar area chattering and bickering. The sinking feeling of doom was back…

Finally the safari vehicles returned and people started to come to the bar with stories of seeing lions with cubs (plus, the bar staff came back!). The wine was drinkable. I saw a box of wine on the counter, but quickly averted my eyes. Dinner was seated at 2 or 3 long tables on the patio. The families were seated separately. Dinner was a four course plated service (soup, appetizer, main, dessert) and the meal was announced. Food at Kafunta was good and items included: moussaka, spinach flan, pepper steak, bruschetta, caprese, mango mousse (a personal favorite), and a braai night.

The schedule at Kafunta was generally:

5:15 am wake-up
6:00 morning game drive (with tea break)
10:00 – 10:30 return to camp
11:00 brunch
3:00 afternoon tea
3:30 evening game drive (sundowners around 5:30)
8:00 ish return to camp
8:30 dinner

And the temperatures for both Kafunta and the Island Bush Camp were 55◦F at the beginning of the morning drive reaching 90◦ F by mid-day.

Up next: The Game Drives begin!
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Aug 18th, 2005, 11:06 AM
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Dreaming - do I detect a little wine snobbery?
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Aug 18th, 2005, 11:17 AM
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Ah, the boxed wine of Kafunta! Brings back some memories...of the switch of Mosi Beer with my meals rather than boxed wine.
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Aug 18th, 2005, 04:10 PM
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Napamatt & Rocco -

I'm truly not much of a wine snob, but boxed wine brings back memories (or maybe the lack thereof!) from long past college years. As does Bartles & James - ring any bells?

I blush to admit that when I went on the Wineland tour I expressed my perference for Chardonnay, Cabernet and Merlot as the Sideway's anti-Merlot pro-Pinot mentality has completely bypassed my taste buds.

(Kafunta did have bottled wine in addition to the box as well!)
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Aug 18th, 2005, 04:31 PM
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dreaming,

Did you ever feel, while at Kafunta, that they were trying to push drinks on you?

I did not realize that drinks were not included at Kafunta (my own fault for not reading the fine print) so I was a bit surprised to be handed a bar bill at the end of my five night stay.

Fortunately, once I endulge once on a holiday, I am usually hesitant to have more than a drink or two the rest of the way, even if the drinks are included. Even so, by averaging a couple drinks a day for a five night stay, the bar bill does add up.
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Aug 19th, 2005, 01:54 AM
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More, more, more, more, more!
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Aug 19th, 2005, 09:48 AM
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Rocco -

I didn't feel that they were pushing the drinks on me. I think they may have changed the verbiage on their website about what's included and not, so I was clear that drinks weren't included. It seemed that they would ask me twice during the day - once about what I wanted for a sundowner and once just before dinner. Otherwise I approach the staff. My bar bill at the end of the five days was $55, which was fine with me!
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Aug 19th, 2005, 09:50 AM
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Game Drives Begin

Through the night I could hear the gasping exhalations of the hippos so when the wake-up knock on the door came, I woke feeling like I was truly in the African bush. Breakfast was quick and by 6 we were on the way! The guide was Martin and there was a couple from England in the car, for a total of 3 guests in the car. The pontoon was a relatively quick 10 or 15 drive away from camp. Driving down the incline to the seemingly narrow pontoon I think I was holding my breath, but the perfect alignment of pontoon and vehicle seemed to come easily to Martin with some direction from the men working the pontoon. Once we were perched on the pontoon, two pontoon men slide the cable into notches in what must have been hand made wooden clubs, and sitting in a rowing position pulled the pontoon along the cable to the other side. (See pictures for the pontoon.)

The continuous light haze in the air (seemed to be from fires rather than dust?) made the sunrises and the sunsets incredibly intense with unbelievable reds and pinks. The English couple were birders, but not to the exclusion of all else and not obsessively so. Watching birds looking for fish in one pond, I saw my first (and last) “kill” of the trip. A bird caught a fish in the pond and a fish eagle swooped in and stole it away – then glided complacently to a nearby tree to enjoy the catch of the day.

We didn’t see many other cars, but did see animals including: hyena, hippo, zebra, buffalo (very small group), puku, impala, and elephant. Then back via the pontoon to the camp for brunch. After brunch, I transferred to Island Bush Camp, a two hour drive. Near Island Bush Camp, they transferred me, my luggage and a crate of beer (the reason for which soon become clear!) via a poled boat across the river. The armed scout then walked me into the camp, where Greg, the guide, was waiting. Greg showed me to my reed chalet, Rhino (see photos), which had a beautiful view of the river.

Up next: Why all the beer?
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Aug 19th, 2005, 10:24 AM
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Why all the beer?

After “rest time” I went down and introduced my self to a few of the other people who were at the Island Bush Camp. A few spoke a little English, some not at all. As we were preparing for our bush walk I saw one of the men putting beer bottles into his shorts pockets. It turned out that I was at the bush camp with a group of 7, 6 guests and their private guide/translator. The group had been together for 2 weeks and were now on the last two days of their trip. Remember that sinking feeling of doom? It was back…

We started out on the afternoon bush walk, and the advantages of being with this group suddenly became clear. We walked single file, first the armed scout, then Greg, then me in what became my assigned position. Being right behind the guide was an advantage than in other circumstances I would have had to share. As it was, I could see where he and the scout were looking, hear their conversations, and most easily hear commentary and directions. On the first walk, we were very close to an elephant, taking a path around to get close, but stay out of scent.

The showers were bucket showers which were prepared regularly for after the afternoon walk, but available on request at other times. Food at the Bush Camp was also very good, again a four course plated service. Some of the items served were chicken curry, steak, beet salad, three bean salad, and fruit crumble. (And for those interested, the red wine was KWV, Pinotage and Shiraz.)

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Aug 19th, 2005, 12:47 PM
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good report, just lost with the beer story? did you leave something out?
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Aug 19th, 2005, 01:21 PM
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Hi Dreaming,
Loved your pics..especially the sunset's..lovely fushia colors in one and brilliant reds in another.
Africa has amazing sunste...sigh.

The zebra's look different in Zambia than the ones we saw in Botswana. Black with white stripes instead of white with back stripes ...haha.
Also, I think your one bird shot was that you question the species was a Saddle Back Stork??
Thanks for posting your report, can't wait to read more.

Brenda
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Aug 19th, 2005, 01:33 PM
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Gosh, I'm getting confused - you were at Kafunta 3 nights no but did you only do one game drive? I can find the stuff on the first drive (game drives begin) where you went out over the pontoons with the English couple as fellow guests and then you're back and being transferred to Island Bush Camp?

I assume the beers were because this group felt the need to celebrate the end of their trip with extra booze?
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Aug 19th, 2005, 03:05 PM
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Kavey,

The package that dreaming did at Kafunta was the exact same one I did in 2003:

Kafunta River Lodge (2)
Kafunta Island Bush Camp (2)
Kafunta River Lodge (1)

I did find this a little draining since like dreaming this was my only time in South Luangwa. I much preferred last year when I spent 4 nights at Kaingo and 3 nights at Chichele.

However, Kafunta is a nice introduction and does have a nice location with a wonderful natural hot spring jacuzzi and nice swimming pool. Also, it was such an adrenaline rush when Alexsandra and I were there our very first night...I was kicked awake at 3AM by a terrified Alexsandra and after regaining consciousness, I realized that there was something huge right outside our thatched chalet...didn't know if it was an elephant, a hippo or something else, but it turned out to be a hippo, munching on the grass right beside our chalet, not more than 5 - 10 feet away from where we were lying in bed, separated only be a couple inches of, what, "thatch?"

But, anyway, that is why you only saw one night game drive. I will not give away the rest of the story though I know how it will likely go from experience.
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Aug 19th, 2005, 04:33 PM
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My apologies for the confusion. I've been trying to edit, edit, edit.... not that you can tell!

Kavey - I spent one night at Kafunta, then transfered for two nights at Island Bush Camp, followed by a final two nights at Kafunta.

Hereandthere and Kavey - yes I left something out. Some of the members of the group were mighty drinkers. Mind you, we had someone with the group following along with the drinks for sundowners. So the pocket beers were just in case a wee tipple became necessary before sundowners. Although they kept a steady pace throughout the day, they never seemed to tip the balance into over-indulging.

Like Rocco, I was awakened in the middle of the night by crunching noises, both at Kafunta and Island Bush Camp. I, however, did not venture out from the safety of the mosquito netting (animals won't go through mosquito netting, right?) to get a look!

Brenda - thank you for the compliment and the stork's name. I'm with you about the sunsets.... ahhh. Did you look at the zebra's bottom? (I know, funny question, sorry.) I haven't compared the tail to my photos from Botswana, but it seemed to me that the zebras here had very intricate and unusual strips on their tail. I'll have to pull out the photo album to see.
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Aug 19th, 2005, 04:41 PM
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Great pictures dreaming! I ONLY have 60 days until I leave for my Zaambia trip staying at Luangwa River Lodge, Chongwe (looks like a nice place but the bed looks lumpy!) and Stanleys. Thanks for sharing and your report is most excellent and informative!!
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Aug 20th, 2005, 12:40 AM
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Rocco, hun, my question was for Dreaming, not you - in reference to that portion of her trip report, above, in this thread which is all about her trip report!

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Aug 20th, 2005, 01:12 AM
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Looking forward to more of the trip! Great photos, my favorites being the elephant with baby.
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