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Trip Report: Sep 2007: Rattrays (Mala Mala), Little Mombo, Kings Pool

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Oct 7th, 2007, 12:09 PM
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Trip Report: Sep 2007: Rattrays (Mala Mala), Little Mombo, Kings Pool

This is not going to be a long trip report, I will try and hit the animal highlights as well as some comments on the various camps and the experiences we had.

We set out from home on a Saturday and drove down to SFO. A quick check in was followed by a nice sojourn in the Virgin Upper Class lounge. The flight to LHR was excellent, a nice meal and "Pirates 3" was followed by a long sleep. The weather in London was good, we made our way through immigration and picked up our bags. After a shower and breakfast at Arrivals we wee picked up by our driver. He took us over to Wisley where we met m sister and her family for lunch and a nice walk through the gardens. At 4:30 we were picked up by our drver and headed back to LHR, SAA fly out of terminal 1.

We had used UAL miles the previous year to get first class tickets on SAA. SAA are in the process of eliminating first class and so I had changed our flights to the one of the two daily flights still operating first class, though the airline had said that we might be on a business only flight on the way back.
Check in was a bit busy and we noticed a young coupl in front of us getting agitated. I quickly figured out the proble when the 20 something lady started crying, she did not have the requisite 2 blank pages in her passport and so was denied boarding and given directions to the embassy for the next day - what a way to start a trip!
Make sure you have the blank pages!!!!
We soon were through security, where I twigged that the security guards were rating the attractiveness of female passengers by assigning car models to them - the cads!
As for carry on baggage we have my wifes Tamrac backpack and I have a bag for my video camera. Each was stuffed with the addtional material we would need, and which would normally be carried in a third bag, but not at Heathrow! My wife carries a small wallet / travel document holder, which we were told had to be in our carry on - what utter bullshit it all is. But be warned!
Soon we were able to enjoy the SAA lounge before boarding. The flight was excellent, the flat beds in SAA first are very comfortable and I had an excellent nights sleep.
We arrived at JNB (ORT) and had a shower and breakfast at the SAA lounge, then met up wth our friends who had flown in from JFK and we were proceeded to check in for the Mala Mala flight. At check in there was a bad moment when the agent could not check us in for the flight. He was not very communicative and in the end I accompanied him to a supervisors desk, where a minor computer glitch was fixed and we were soon checked in.
Pretty soon we were on the Mala Mala flight, only to be told there would be a delay, a group of 18 were late. Apparently there tour organizer had sent them to the international terminal! How dumb were they not to even question that? But we were delayed an hour, then to cap it all, when they arrived they took forever to board and tried to bring on way too much hand luggage. Eventually everything was sorted out, my favorite of the group was the guy wearing a hemet of the sort sported by Michael Caine in Zulu - what a prat!
On arrival at AAM we were met by Nils Kure who had a couple of enamel mugs for me, a joke we had shared about the best receptacle for fine wine. That's the really nice thing about visiting somewhere so often, the great relationships you build.
Nils gave us the option to upgrade to Rattrays so we accepted, though we did think about it for a minute, because we do really like Butlins, sorry Main Camp.
At Rattrays we settled in and were welcomed by lots of old friends with a great lunch. Gourmet it is not, but who cares, there is plenty of choice, the food is well preared, tasty and there is plenty of it, it is much better than 2 star.
Our ranger for the trip was to be Stefan and the good news was the tracker was Philemon. He is an excellent tracker, great birder and has good english with a nice sense of humor, we enjoy him very much.

The only problem here was the weather, the days before we arrived it was 100F, the it dropped into the 60's, a temperature we were not really prepared for. Fortunately the Virgin Sleep Suit is an excellent item to have , the trousers can be worn almost as long underwear, with the top being an extra sweater.

Game Highlights - the Eyrefield Pride and their nine cubs. While viewing them in the river we got stuck, not 20 feet from them. The vehicle had maybe one wheel making contact with the ground, so Philemon had to sneak out of the back and use the jack to try and get some traction, while we kept an eye on the Lions. One was very inerested in him, but we did eventually make it out. Later in the afternoon, we saw them again, out in the open in the river bed and got some nice video. Light was not good for photos.
Viewing was a bit quiet, but our highlight on the last morning was seeing the Bycycle Crossing Male mate in the open with the Kapen female. He then went up a tree to a cached Impala kill and gave us some good feeding, with three Hyenas down below waiting for scraps.
We also saw the Kikilezi female Leopard and the Rollercoaster Male Lion.
It did rain a bit and so one morning we actually went back to sleep at 5:30, got up at 7 and had breakfast then went out and stayed out later - no problem it was cool, a good decision.
After 3 days we headed back to JNB, where we booked into the Sun for the night. By this time had a stinking cold, so while Elke worked out in the 8th flor gym at the hotel, I used the steam room. The hotel was packed and we managed to get a table for dinner, where a Paul Culver Pinot Noir, did not particularly impress.
Next morning we got going early and checked in for the Air Botch flight nice and early.

Air Botch - an appropriate name. We had actually boarded the bus to go to the aircraft when they sent us back to the terminal, as usual no communication followed and so we spent almost two hours waiting, before they decided the aircraft could be flown to Gaberone but not to Maun! We insisted that the pilot explain his rationale and to his credit he swallowed his macho prode and did so - a rare thing in Africa. Six people did not catch the flight. We actually tried to charter a plane, but none were available.
We landed at Gabs and were transferred straight to another plane and off to Maun where we arrived about 3pm. I had asked for seats at the front so we could be first in line for immigration, of course they didn't have the forms on the second plane, so we had to fill them out while standing in line. Once the lggage came off, we headed out to meet our guide Grant Atkinson from Wilderness.
At this point we had more issues. There was a group of six going to Mombo, so there would be 11 of us on a caravan going to Mombo. 2 people had lost their luggage, so we had to wait around for the second flight to come, on the off chance it had their luggage, then wait for them to fill out paperwork. This cost us an hour and a half, totally for the benefit of Wilderness Safaris. The pilot could have flown us to Mombo and got back before the others were ready to go, instead we all had to wait. I will be complaining very loud to Wilderness through my TA.
We did eventually get to Mombo where Nick the manager met us with sandwiches and drinks. We elected to go to our rooms before starting a truncated game drive, thsi would allow Peter and Pat the chance to appreciate Mombo in daylight.
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Oct 7th, 2007, 12:19 PM
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Matt,

When I was in Bots in August, on 3 consecutive days people arrived without luggage ... (and so did I).
 
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Oct 7th, 2007, 12:31 PM
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Peter is a keen birder like me, so we headed for the flood plains north of Mombo where they was some great fish trap action. To see flocks of Ruff, 30+ Black Egret's all fishing, with all 3 kinds f Ibis, pelicans, Spponbils, Slaty, Little, Great and Yellow-billed Egrets all fishing was a great sight.

Little Mombo was our home for three days and with just the four of us, it was brilliant. I have always enjoyed the Mala Mala experience where you essentially mix with the people in your group and so the place feels small. I have never really liked the group dinners in Botswana, where you have to make the same small talk with different strangers each night. Having LM to ourselves was perfect, Grant is good company and Nick the manager was an excellent host. The food at Mombo has I think imprved slightly since the departure of Craig, there is a little more spiciness which is great.
Viewing at LM was good, though quiet on the predator front, we did see the Moporota pride, but no Leopard. Perhaps the bes sighting was of a Tawny Eagle on a small mound. Grant drove slowly forward to try and get better pictures, eventually spooking the Eagle which took off with a guineafowl in its grasp. Unfortunately this was too heavy to carry and the bird dropped his prize, for it to be snatched up immediately by a Black-backed Jackal.
Another highlight was a pair of Lesser Jacana, spotted from camp, a life Collared Pratincole and Yellow-bellied Greenbul. We heard a Yellow-fronted Tinerbird, but couldn't find it.
The trip produced four life birds for me, not bad when you consider I have seen 336 birds at this combination of habitats and camps. I had set a target this year of 500 birds and started the trip at 420, with 8 year birds at Mala Mala, there was not much pressure on Mombo, and Mombo delivered some great birds with many fish traps. I finished the trip at 512 birds, with almost three months left in 2007. Next years 500 with only one trip to SA may be more of a challenge.
A highlight of Mombo was a bush brunch by the hippo hide at the side of a nice chanel, with Hippo, Crocs, Ellies in the distance and many birds.

On the 1st (my 42nd birthday) we had brunch then caught a plane over to Kings Pool. We had requested rooms 1 and 2, or at least anything on the west side of camp, unfortunatley we got 8 and 9, so lots of hippo noise at night. The rooms at KP are still lovely, but looking a it tired.
We had decided after enjoying our private camp so much to request 3 private dinners for our time at KP, the management were happy to oblige us.

It was hot in Bots, but all the game vehicles had roofs on, fortunately becuase we had our own vehicle we requested it was removed. The canopies spoil both still and video photography, make birding impossible, and impede your view at many sightings.
We watched many peope bending themselves double trying to see a Leopard in a tree, when all we had to do was look straight up.
We saw a couple of male Lions at KP, a portion of the Border Boys, there has been some fighting and the guides headed by Grant are trying to figure out what is going on. Grant was grabbing images from guests to compare whisker patterns to piece together who was left standing after some major fights.
It did rain at KP, so we headed in early and watched the storm from the bar. We took the view that from experience we were unlikely to see much, and if we did, we couldn't film it. The other vehicles didn't see much while we were comfortable at the lodge, so it was good call.
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Oct 7th, 2007, 12:31 PM
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Johan

And Air Bots are having a muuch improved year, service wise!
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Oct 7th, 2007, 01:29 PM
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Matt,

Have you been to Auberge Michel in Sandton yet?

The wine card (mostly French wines) is quite impressive.
 
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Oct 7th, 2007, 02:41 PM
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Nine cubs--superub. All the flight delays and problems--not so good. Some great fishing by the birds. The cats were out at Mala Mala!

You met and exceeded your bird goal!

That is unnerving that you may have missed a flight due to some glitch. Wise of you to pursue it with a supervisor.
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Oct 7th, 2007, 02:46 PM
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Thanks, great attention to detail, and very helpful information.

Have you read "To See Every Bird on Earth"? I won't ruin it for you, but there are many people who have seen several thousand (even 7,000) species of birds.

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Oct 7th, 2007, 05:59 PM
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Hmmmm....1st class flight, Rattrays upgrade, 9 lion cubs, great friends and guides and hippos serenading you a Happy Birthday song- sounds like a great trip to me!

How was the Rollercoaster Male looking?
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Oct 7th, 2007, 08:04 PM
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Napamatt,

Did they feel the early rains is a sign of an extra wet summer? or just a freak storm? reading the WS game reports .... sounds like the elephants moved back into the mopane right after the rains!

I still have just under 3 months to go to get to SA.

Hari
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Oct 8th, 2007, 10:47 AM
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Matt,

I just got down on the floor of our truck to take a picture of that leopard in the tree. It kept moving around, so we kept circling around the tree. Alas, my camera reset itself somehow so the photo was only 4 megapixels instead of 6, and the quality was fine instead of superfine. So while it looks great on my computer screen, I don't think I'm going to be able to print it out any larger than 8x10.
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Oct 8th, 2007, 11:38 AM
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Matt,
Sounds like a great trip!
Did you see any wild dogs? We had such a great siting at Little Mombo several years ago.
Samcat
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Oct 8th, 2007, 12:33 PM
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Sounds like a fantastic trip Matt. First class flight, with a good meal and good night's sleep certainly started the trip off well.

Then an upgrade to Rattray's and 9 lion cubs. What a fortunate place to get stuck in the mud. For you at least, although not for your tracker. And to have Little Mombo to yourselves, what a treat. Did you book a private vehicle, or did it just turn out that way? Turned out great either way since they removed the top for you, particularly since you are such a keen birder.

Do you set a goal every year of 500 birds that year? That's a lofty goal, but seems this year you had no problem meeting it.

Did you miss a game drive at Mala Mala, in addition to a truncated drive at Mombo, due to flight delays? Were the other passengers unwilling to go onto Mombo earlier, and have their luggage catch up with them, or did Sefofane/WS make the decision to wait for their luggage? And was their luggage even on that second flight that you had to wait for?

Sounds like a fantastic trip nonetheless. Please post photos soon.

Thanks,
Dana
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Oct 8th, 2007, 01:47 PM
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Some quik replies before I get to the "interesting" Kings Pool guests. The "successful breeders" being the best.

Johan - I have not been to that restaurant. How are the wine prices?

Thit Cho - (is it Michael, I forget?) I have read that book, my only problem is only ever wanting to go to Africa will stop me getting a big total. If only I was independently wealthy. Current unofficial leader is at 8500+ out of c.10400

Carla - he was looking pretty good. He did give us a bit of a roar.

Hari - the rain wasn't that much, and the elephants were back to the river the next afternoon. I don't know that anyone really knows what to make of early rain.

Mista - didn't see you at Mombo, though we probably drove past each other.

Samcat - no wild dogs, we did see them 4 days out of 6 at Mombo last June, but we didn't see them at all this time. Of course we missed them by about four days at Mala Mala.

Dana - we were originally a party of 6 and one couple flaked, so we ended up spending a bit more, but our TA made sure we got sole use of LM. We hired Grant Atkinson as a private guide, which meant we also had private vehicles, though we did have to pay extra for that at Kings Pool. The trip was very expensive, but it was more than worth it.
The 500 birds was a test for this year, to force me to get out more in CA and improve my home territory birding, and it has certainly worked out well. The 500 owed a lot to 2 trips to MM, and the Bots portion of this trip. Also I had an excellent morning in Cheshire with a very generous birder who showed me over 80 birds in about 7 hours hard driving and walking. The rest has been more work on my behalf on buisness trips and in northern CA.
We did not miss a game drive at MM, just missed the unpack hour before lunch on the first day. As to the Sefofane fiasco, I'm not sure the passengers were given that choice or not. We were certainly given no choice. I called my TA this morning, who had already read my report yesterday and had called Wilderness looking for some answers and some way to make things right, I am sure she will get everything sorted to our satisfaction. And no their luggage was not on the flight, so then we had to wait for them to fill out the relevant paperwork!
DW is working on photos and I will try and get a couple of video clips onto Youtube.
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Oct 9th, 2007, 07:41 AM
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Matt, while I'm not much of a birder, I have gotten some valuable information from the Field Guides website

http://www.fieldguides.com/toursafrica.htm

For their past trips, they include very detailed sighting reports. I'm not sure if you've seen their South Africa lists, but they provide some very helpful information (and also give some ideas on potential itineraries).

Michael

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Oct 9th, 2007, 07:42 AM
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This is a more accurate link to the South Africa list

http://www.fieldguides.com/2006weblists/saf06LIST.pdf

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Oct 9th, 2007, 08:41 AM
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Michael - I hadn't seen that, thanks for the link, makes for interesting reading. I am spending a few days in the CT area next year, and while birding will be ancillary to sightseeing, I do want to maximize my opportunites.
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Oct 9th, 2007, 02:43 PM
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6 paw camp guests (or the Mombo effect)

I wish I didn't like the luxury so much, because I seem to have met the weirdest bunch of guests at 6 paw camps. Normally Mombo takes some beating for sheer idiots. I still remember the classic - "we're prety much od'ed on animals" it was the start of 3rd drive, thankfully they skipped the 4th.
However this year Kings Pool had some beaut's. Most of the guests hadn't appeared for breakfast by the time we were out of camp - and we were not up before dawn or out early like last year.
My favorites were the "successful breeders" a couple with 3 kids, a 3 year old, 14 month old and 4 month old - no blanks there .
Apparently the trip to Abu, KP and Rattrays was a sorry for getting her pregnant. She apparently had read #1 Ladies and so was a veritable expert on all things Botswana. In 2 days at KP, they went on one game drive, the one where it rained! They managed to make it to brunch, I guess the beds were so comfortable, they didn't want to get up.
Having spent a huge amount of time in their room, they did bring the sat phone down to dinner so we could all listen to the "mommy loves you" conversation amp;
Anyway at Maun waiting for our flight the guy engages me in conversation, and explains how little he thought of the KP guides (after 1 game drive). Apparently he and the other experts in his vehicle wanted the guide to be a little less close to some sleeping Lions. The guide, young but good, according to Grant, probably did not do a great job of explaining how safe everyone was - but I love the arrogance that we know best. The guy then asked if there were walking safari's at Rattrays, because he was sick of being in the vehicle! After one drive.
The other classic was a woman who interrupted our pre-dinner drinks with the question, "what do you guys get from safari?". She admitted to having a tear in her eye when she saw Lions, to me that seemed enough, but she wasn't sure. So I decided to go into a whole speech about genetic memory and how Africa just feels different, my companions thought I was sending her up, but I was sort of serious. She knew exactly what I meant, she had experienced the same thing in Portugal and Cuba!
I'm probably being unfair, but please you are on safari to see wildlife, get your ass out of bed and do just that.

Cheetah
There are serious issues for Cheetah in Botswana. If you think of the male coalitions that have been strong for a long time, most are gone or reduced with no signs of recruitment.
The Savuti boys are only 2, the Steroid boys are gone and the Vumbura pair are only 1. There seems to be a lack of new male Cheetah coming up to fill the space left. Grant is very concerned about this.

Leopard - Mombo does not seem to be a good spot for Leopard, in fact I would say it's now primarily Lion / Hyena, with the exception of Lagedima. Kings Pool provided much more Leopard viewing and has done for a while now.
In fact one of our best sightings was of drag marks leading from the flood plain into a strangler fig. There we found a female Leopard with an impala kill. I was very hopeful of finally getting to film, a carcass being treed, but no such luck. She did scout the tree for the best spot, then wandered back into the flood plain, we thought to drink. In fact she returned to the site of the kill and retrieved half a fetus, she must have eaten the other half already.
At KP we did get some nice Elephant action, with Elephants all around us, drinking, wallowing and with a bull trying to have his a way with a cow!

I enjoyed this trip very much and wish there was a good way to prevent the Air Bots disasters that seem to hit me every other trip. But each camp was wonderful in its own way. Staff and management were excellent at each camp. Game viewing was not the best I've ever had, but I think we all have a tendency to remember the good stuff from previous trips and to expect a highlight reel every time we go.
A last highlight and the big difference between Botswana and MM, is the occurence of animals in camp, particularly big ones like Elephants. DW was jogging the Mombo boardwalk, from LM3 to Mombo 1 is a half a mile, when she came across Hyena under the walk, baboons on it - they fled pretty rapidly, and Ellie right next to it. She decided to wait for the ellie to move off, but when he didn't she sought Nick's help in getting past him. At Kings Pool we actually had an ellie, slap bang in front of our door, and again had to wait a while for him to move off, before we were able to get back to our room. That's the stuff I love in Botswana.
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Oct 9th, 2007, 07:41 PM
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Napamatt,

Thanks for the straight up info on the guests at Botswana 6 paw. Unfortunately, i think we are going to see more and more of these guests at all camps across the safari circuit. Oh! and in June, i did come across a group of 6(last two days of my safari) and they didn't get along at all. They all had different interests and were constantly complaining/fighting. However, there was this one photographer in their group that was very interesting and was cheetah-obsessed himself.

Did Grant mention any reason for the dwindling cheetah numbers in Botswana? Probably has a fair point ..... between the 3 linyanti concessions there are exactly 3 cheetah that are seen on a regular basis at the moment(the savuti boys and the Lebala female cheetah). I hear of one or two skittish cheetah moving thru, but, they are seen too sporadically. Oh! and there was one other female cheetah (sick during my visit and eventually died at Savuti-read about it on the WS game report)
However, there could be more cheetah around .... who knows!

Hari
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Oct 9th, 2007, 07:51 PM
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Just wait for the Jill Scott movie to hit Hollywood ..... imagine, the guests who DON'T READ??? and watched the movie instead ....
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Oct 9th, 2007, 08:29 PM
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Matt,
Every time I hear stories like this about 6 paw guests I appreciate 5 paw camps more! Why do people spend so much time and money to go on a safari and then not go on safari?

Cheetah was perhaps the only fairly common species I did not see in Botswana, and now I know why. I thought I was just unlucky. Or maybe lucky that I saw everything but. Thanks for the info.

Love the close encounters of the Elle kind. I can just picture being there with an Elle blocking your path. Not an animal to be reckoned with I suppose. I had a similar situation (although outside my tented room) at Duma Tau. But I was inside at the time so did not have to call for help. Just had to wait for him to leave.

Glad you had a good trip.
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