Trip report southern Africa (long)

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Jul 1st, 2005, 12:24 PM
  #1
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Trip report southern Africa (long)

We returned from our southern Africa trip Wednesday night. The two weeks were simply wonderful. Let me begin by getting some nuts 'n bolts out of the way first.
--re using Visa credit card: everything I read said that is the way to go; but what wasn't said is that it is a very time consuming, and not always successful means of purchasing things. At the J'berg airport, the customers right after me found that the credit card machine would not connect to the telephone, and it was nearly 20 minutes before it did. In other places, you had to give your credit card to the clerk who then walked off somewhere and long minutes later returned with your receipt. If the machine does not like your card......at least the customers waiting were very patient, moreso than I when this happened to me. I had a plane to catch.
In some of the markets the signs may say Visa welcome, but the people manning the booth will not accept credit cards unless the amount you spend is sufficient to make it worth their while.
--Re passport pages for the Republic of South Africa. It is essential to have at least two facing pages available. Part of our group left from Atlanta, and while at Atlanta Airport, the announcement was made re this. Some forty people had to leave. SA will not let you enter without those facing pages. Those people had to get to DC or NY, get the pages, and all at their own expense, then get on to meet their respective groups. I mention this because the staff at University Travel treated this rather cavalierly when I brought it up back in Sept '04, and again in May '05. Had I myself not searched this out, I'd not have known the regulation. Make sure you check the website for the embassy of whatever country you are visiting.
--A discussion re tips was held a while back. Make sure you plan this well. As well prepared as I thought I was, I wasn't in this regard. There were far more people to tip than I expected.
--In Chobe, Botswana, and in some of the local craft markets, while dollar bills are fine, some people would not take bills that had corners that were bent, or looked worn.
--Dress attire, as recommended by Univ Travel for men i.e., blazer & slacks, was never needed, nor were dresses or skirts for women. Follow the advice of fodorites re packing lightly.

Okay. I tried to cover those things that caught us by surprise.

My friend and I arrived in J'burg the 16th and spent that night and our last night in Africa at Waybury House, a guest house. It is lovely. The staff is wonderful; the food delicious. We flew the next day to Cape Town. Cape Town is a beautiful city, sparkling clean. Our visit to Table Mountain occurred on the first sunny day in days, and we were stunned at the beauty of the view from atop the mountain. We did the Cape Point Tour the next day, and it was wonderful. We saw the jackass penguins, and their name is well earned. In Cape Town we stayed at Villa Rosa, a very nice bed & breakfast. It is not advisable to walk at night, even in twos, so we did a group walk a couple of blocks down to find dinner.
We flew from C Town to J'berg, then drove 5.5 hours to Kruger, staying at Tremisana Lodge. This is a basic lodge, with small, rather rustic rooms. Each evening we ate in the boma. A fire in a stone fire place where a large kettle of soup was placed, or stew; and a table where the rest of the meal was set and dished out; tables for sitting and eating. Not at all fancy. Food was good. The nights in Kruger were very cold. We did a night game drive and two days of game drives. Kruger is amazing, and we saw everything, including leopard twice. The first time was just at daybreak, when we saw a leopard lying on the side of the road. It got up and slowly walked into the bush, never taking its eyes off of us. At the end of the day, we came upon another leopard lying in a dry river bed and got wonderful looks until it rose up and slowly walked to the other side and disappeared into an enormous hole in an enormous tree. Our guide was really into the Big Five and we saw all the BF before noon. We stopped for lunch both days at Satara, a very pleasant place. Our first morning we had breakfast out in the bush, and that was wonderful (except when a go-away bird pooped on my plate). We saw huge herds of cape buffalo; a lot of elephant; a lot of giraffe and zebra, kudu, and sable antelope. We departed Kruger at 3:30 a.m for the drive back to J'berg to fly to Zambia and head into Vic Falls.
Vic Falls deserves more than the time we were given. We stayed at A'Zambezi Lodge, a wonderful lodge on the Zambezi River. The food here was really good, eaten at tables very nicely appointed set out in the main area under thatched roof. I ate warthog mignon which was delicious and tasted like pork; kudu, quite good; crocodile tail (yes, it tastes just like chicken); impala, and delicious ostrich stir fry.
We then went on to Chobe Botswana. It took 50 minutes for the visa process at Zambia. We do not know why. And before we could enter Botswana, we had to step in a solution to prevent foot and mouth disease. Then we each had to go into the immigration office to have our passports stamped.
We stayed at The Chobe Safari Lodge, a wonderful place with very professional and friendly staff. Our days there were great, and the game drives fun. There were optional activities, and I went with a group to Namibia to visit a village. On one of the game drives, the vehicle (all opensided with a canvas top) came close to a herd of elephant. The elephant thought that the humans were too close, and immediately crowded around the vehicle. One female put her huge foreleg on the front bumper, then moved around, and used her trunk to closely inspect the dashboard and steering wheel. It was a 10 minute and nearly bladder emptying experience for the folks from our group who went on the drive, but finally the elephants left.
We were there during the winter, their dry season, and breathed in tons of dust. Dust was inescapable. The town of Chobe is within walking distance, about 10 minutes, of Safari Lodge, so we went in on our first afternoon. Not much was open. I sat down beside a young woman who I had been observing selling something. I think from what I saw, it was candy. But on the ground in a mesh net like that which we put oranges in, were what she called peanuts. Huge squash like things--and I drew a picture for her of what "peanuts" in the US means. She thought that was pretty funny. Hers were about 10 lbs each, and you have to peel them, then cook them.
This is how we left Botswana to fly to J'berg and home: we were taken by van to the river. As we stood beneath the broiling winter sun, dust swirling around us, men loaded a small bass type fishing boat with our luggage. We watched this little thing chug across the river. It came back to get us, and we chugged across the river and into our van. As we stood waiting to be taken across, the thought occurred to me that were I to die, the medical examiner would have to scrape layers of dust from my internal organs to learn anything as to why I died. And it might well be that dust would have been the cause.
I loved those two weeks. I found everyone so pleasant, even though we were obviously fifteen more tourists of the scabillions they have seen. The people we met, esp on the Island of Impalile, were men and women and children of innate dignity. In my next report, I will spend time telling you about the village. And I must do it from memory, for I just discovered that I left my beloved journal on one of the planes. All my written observations....I am quite fatigued and hope that what I just wrote is intelligible. Those of you who have a trip waiting for you: you are in for a marvelous experience provided you "go with the flow" and let things take their course, not demand that things happen with American fastness. They won't!!
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Jul 1st, 2005, 01:38 PM
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Fantastico - sounds like a great trip, can't wait to read more!
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Jul 1st, 2005, 02:06 PM
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Thanks for the effort of keeping the junkies fixed
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Jul 2nd, 2005, 07:29 PM
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i saw this tour online, would you recommend it?
 
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Jul 3rd, 2005, 12:05 PM
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I think, all in all, I would recommend it. I filled out the survey which Univ. Travel sent me, and made some suggestions which I hope they will follow. The trip was really wonderful, altho I would like to have had one more day at A'Zambezi Lodge so that I could have visited Vic Falls other than from a helicopter. I also suggested that one day be dropped from the Cape Town tour, namely the free day. If you take this tour with University Travel, while their prices are quite good, I suggest you stay right on top of them all the way and insist on immediate responses to any questions you make via phone or email. From the very beginning, if you have preferences re air travel, make them known, then keep at the folks there to make sure you get what you want. Because I have to work two jobs to do the travelling I want to do, I look for tour companies that include r/t airfare to the destination I want. I was satsified with this trip, enjoyed it very much. OAT also has excellent trips, includes r/t airfare, and also includes cultural experiences. I hope I answered your question; if not, let me know.
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Jul 3rd, 2005, 12:37 PM
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Very interesting report, thanks.

Was the A'Zambezi the Mercure A'Zambezi on the Zimbabwe side? I hope it was - we're booked into there (also into Chobe Safari Lodge) for some nights next month, and if it was the Mercure I think that's the first reference to it I've found on Fodors, so if you could elaborate a bit more that would be great.

Thanks again, and great job.
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Jul 4th, 2005, 09:11 AM
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tkspinole
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how were the animals at chobe? you only mentioned the elephant.
 
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Jul 4th, 2005, 05:31 PM
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The animals at Chobe were wonderful. We saw a lot of kudu, impala, sable antelope (twice), hippo, baboon, a lot of giraffe. And there were a good number of baby animals. There were hundreds and hundreds of cape buffalo, a lot of waterbuck. Leopard had been seen by others, but we missed it by a hair. If I mentioned primarily the elephant it is because our experiences were so interesting, and also because the numbers of
elephant are so high there. I really enjoyed Chobe. I enjoyed our whole trip. When we were in Kruger, we stopped at a turn off and had the pleasure of seeing five female lion, one particularly close to us, as they geared up for the night hunt. The only cat we never got to see was the cheetah. In Chobe, we heard from others that leopard and lion had been spotted, but my group missed out. I can't leave out the warthog--in Chobe they wander around freely in the town, and even through the grounds of our lodge, The Chobe Safari Lodge, which is quite nice.
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Jul 6th, 2005, 06:49 AM
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Topping - Birder57, was it the Mercure a'Zambezi? Thanks.
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Jul 18th, 2005, 12:31 PM
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Gardyloo--sorry for the delay. I have been up in Md & Del visiting family and just got in late last night 7/17. A'Zambezi Lodge is in Zimbabwe in the town of Victoria Falls. I liked the lodge very much; found the personnell quite helpful, esp Terrence, the head horticulturalist. The food was excellent, ambience neat; and the staff was great. The river cruise in the late afternoon was quite pleasant.

Don't forget--if any of you are planning to visit So. Africa, make sure you have two facing empty pages in your passport. If you visit Chobe Safari Lodge, which I very much enjoyed, the opportunity to visit a Namibian village is recommended. In fact, despite the glitches we had, the trip itself was really good, and I look back on it with great affection.

Regarding seeing Vic Falls: Those in my group who did the helicopter ride said it was good; those who took the morning walk and saw the falls, said they only had very limited views. For myself, I'd take a game drive over Vic Falls. The game viewing in Chobe & Kruger was great.



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