Trip Report- Vic falls & Botswana

Old Aug 26th, 2008, 02:47 PM
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Trip Report- Vic falls & Botswana

Hello everyone

My wife and I have just returned from a wonderful trip to Victoria falls and Botswana. This was our fourth safari trip in Africa (been to Namibia, Kenya/Tanzania and South Africa before). We have also travelled extensively to other parts of the world. I wouldn’t say this was our best trip ever, but it surely was memorable and among the best.

This was our itinerary (13 nights in Africa):

Aug 10, 11, 12: Royal Livingstone Hotel near Victoria falls (Zambian side)
Aug 13, 14: The Garden Lodge in Kasane
Aug 15, 16: Jack’s Camp, in the Makgadikgadi pans
Aug 17, 18: Mapula Lodge, in the Okavango Delta
Aug 19, 20: Camp Moremi, in Moremi Game Reserve
Aug 21, 22: Duma Tau, in Linyanti concession

We organized the trip through a UK travel agency, Expert Africa (www.expertafrica.com), they were very efficient and professional from beginning to end and I totally recommend their services.

I will post more detail about each place here over the next few days, but I’ll give a brief summary now:

We were fairly lucky with the game viewing: saw lions in all the camps (except Jack’s) including lions feeding a couple of times, 2 leopard, the Mapula wild dog pack (7 adults + 13 pups), sable antelope, honey badger, hyena, aardwolf, puku, wildcat, meerkat, plenty of birds (some cool ones like malachite kingfisher, ground hornbill, wattled crane, swarms of quelea, …), plus all the other more common fauna.

Actually, birds were a big highlight for me as in previous safaris I hadn’t paid much attention to them and I learned to appreciate them in this trip. I was overwhelmed with the number of different bird species and had to buy a small field guidebook to help me keep track of what we saw.

There were only two animals in our wish list that we didn’t see: cheetah and brown hyena. I was also surprised that we didn’t see that many buffalo, the only place in Botswana we saw them was in Chobe (plus a big herd in the delta that we saw from the plane). We also didn’t see any huge herds of elephant, the largest I would say was 30-40 individuals.

Most of the lodges/camps were great and met or exceeded expectations, perhaps with the exception of Jack’s, which we didn’t like that much (we found it too snobbish), although it is in a beautiful location. Our favourite overall was Duma Tau, and I also loved Mapula, a place I strongly recommend to serious game-viewing fanatics.

We were impressed by the skill and dedication of all the guides we had, they work really hard to please their guests and often go the extra mile to make everyone happy.

The logistics of the trip went really smooth, all the small plane transfers happened in the middle of the day so we didn’t miss any activities; also we were lucky and our luggage didn’t get lost or delayed. The only inconvenience in this respect was that on our return the Joburg-Heathrow flight had a 4 hour delay so we missed our connection and arrived home much later than expected. Better on the return than on the way there!
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Old Aug 26th, 2008, 03:20 PM
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It's nice you are getting into the birds and there are some cool ones.

Brown hyena is a tough one and your only shot at it was probably Jack's.

Cheetah is not easy either.

Funny you should get that impression of Jack's because it's history is just the opposite--quirky, eccentric, but not snobbish. But staff comes and goes and maybe the combo at the time came off that way. I've never been to Jack's, just San, which where everybody was lovely. I did not see brown hyena either.

Welcome back.

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Old Aug 27th, 2008, 02:46 AM
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Velcome back and looking forward to a more detailed report. Your itinerary looks really interesting.

Glad you had such good game-viewing.

best regards,
Tom
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Old Aug 27th, 2008, 03:36 PM
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Thanks for your comments

Atravelynn,

we knew the brown hyena was going to be tough, but I had high hopes of seeing it at Jack’s- apparently there is a group of them in the area that is habituated to humans and there used to be regular sightings of them (actually, the Bradt travel guide literally says you’re virtually guaranteed to see one). Unfortunately, we were told that 3 weeks before our arrival the hyenas disappeared and they had hardly seen them since. The day before our departure another group saw one during and evening game drive…

As for our impression of Jack’s, quirky and eccentric are not the adjectives that come to mind, extravagant and decadent maybe. To us, the atmosphere there was more like that of a posh country club. Here’s an excerpt from a review I read in Tripadvisor that sums it up pretty well: “The guides are all masters and/or PhD candidates. They’re smarter than you and never quite allow you to forget it. With the managers they live a pristine, ascetic desert existence and deign to give the tourists a glimpse past our sordid, material lives into their unspoiled perfection”.
But we did enjoy our stay there, it’s just that the attitude was a bit annoying and the decoration stuffy.
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Old Aug 27th, 2008, 03:50 PM
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OK then, first part of the trip: Victoria falls (long post, sorry…)

Aug 10

We landed perfectly on-time (12:45 pm) at Livingstone airport and our two bags made it with us, which was a pleasant surprise given that we took 3 flights (Madrid-Heathrow-Jo’burg-Livingstone, all with British Airways) and the first one took off with a 1-hr delay (luckily we had a 3 hour layover at Heathrow). Even though we had two separate tickets (one M-H-J and another J-L), BA let us check our bags all the way to Livingstone. Since we had heard that Jo’burg airport is a bit of a mess and we had a 4 hrs layover there, we decided to immigrate into SA and go to the baggage claim to see if our bags came out there. Surely enough, there was my wife’s suitcase, so we rechecked it at the BA lost luggage desk.

When entering Zambia we purchased a double-entry visa, which is USD80 per head with a Spanish passport, so that we didn’t have to pay again when we crossed the border to see the falls from Zimbabwe. You can also purchase a multiple-entry one in case you plan to go back and forth several times.

The Royal Livingstone is a very nice hotel, luxurious and well kept. It is very big (170 rooms), so it is rather impersonal and touristy, but that was expected. The best thing about it is its location: on the eastern bank of the Zambezi, within walking distance (10 min) of the falls, we could see the spray from our very comfortable second-floor room (though we couldn’t see the river because of the trees…). The garden is big and full of large trees, and also plenty of vervet monkeys and some baboons, which are fun to watch for a while but then become a nuisance as they are very bold, you really need to keep your room well shut. We also saw zebra, impala and giraffe in the hotel grounds.

The service is generally very good, though it has many small glitches typical of big hotels in third world countries: one day they took the towels without putting new ones, another they didn’t refill the minibar, didn’t put more toilet paper, etc, no big deal really, and every time we called our butler he quickly came to fix whatever hadn’t been done right.

The food in the restaurant is excellent and served pompously, which is kind of funny. The sunset bar is great, though it only opens from 5 to 7 and you have to be there early to get a good seat as it quickly fills up for the sunset.

On the day of arrival we had a 45 min swedish massage, which was great to recover from the flights. They give the massage in outdoor gazebos overlooking the river, very relaxing (except when you hear the occasional hippo grunt nearby!)

Aug 11

Pick up at 6:30 to go to Zimbabwe for an Elephant-back safari. We had arranged this last minute the day before through the hotel, the activity was fully booked in Zambia so we had to do it in Zim. We were going to Zim anyway to see the falls from there, so this wasn’t a problem at all. The visa to get into Zimbabwe was USD 30 for us (I think it’s more with US or UK passports).

The elephant-back stroll (I think calling it a safari is a stretch) is a very recommendable activity, my wife totally loved it, but it is expensive (USD 140 per head). You end up spending roughly one hour on the elephant and you don’t see many animals (we only saw waterbucks), you go either alone or with another person, plus the mahoot. We were lucky and had an elephant for each. Mine was a huge bull called “Jumbo” that didn’t stop eating during the whole walk, pulling branches from trees left and right. Then after the ride you get to feed your elephant, that’s lotsa fun, and then you get breakfast and they show you the video and pictures for you to buy.

After the activity we asked them to drop us off at the Victoria Falls Hotel instead of going back to Zambia. The VFH is worth visiting, although it looks a bit in disrepair especially inside, the outside and the garden look nicer. Its corridors are full of early 20th century maps and posters with adds from shipping companies and the like, and also pictures of the English royalty visiting the falls (including a few of the current queen in 1947). The garden has breathtaking views of the 2nd and 3rd gorges and the VF bridge.

We walked from the VFH to the falls, which is 15-20 min. It is perfectly safe, though there are some very persistent people trying to sell you stuff and asking for money, but after saying “No” several times, nicely but firmly, they left us alone. We also saw a herd of 10 or so buffalo too close for comfort.

The entrance to the falls in Zim is USD 20, and they rent you raincoats for USD 3. The raincoats came in handy when we went down to Cataract View, but weren’t really necessary in the other viewpoints, though I’m sure that in peak water season you get soaked. I strongly recommend going to see the falls from the Zim side, you get much closer to the falls than in Zambia and the views are more spectacular. There’s also a nice mini-rainforest due to the spray, near which we saw a female bushbuck (first-timer for us) and many baboons. And from one of the viewpoints you can see the people bungi-jumping from the brige.

It took us a bit over 2hrs to go to the falls, see them and then return to the VFH for lunch. On the way back we were escorted by two members of the “tourist police” who kept the touts away for a tip. Lunch at the VFH was good –and with awesome views- though very expensive (USD 80 both).

After lunch we walked from the VFH to the Royal Livingstone, which took us around 1hr 15 min at “tourist pace” (ie, with many stops for pictures), luckily there were no lines at the border posts. Again, we felt perfectly safe and enjoyed the views from the bridge, though it was sad to see the dozens of people coming back into Zim with basic stuff they can’t find there, like sacks of rice, milk, etc

After a 2hr rest in the room, we went to the sunset bar and while I was enjoying a Dry Martini a vervet monkey jumped on the table, snatched the olive out and ate it! at least I reacted fast enough to give the little bstrd a slap in the back, and the good thing is that they gave me another drink. The sunset was spectacular, too.

We felt adventurous that night and instead of dining in the hotel went to a Zambian restaurant in Livingstone: Ngoma Zanga. Bad idea. IMO, the place is a tourist trap, no wonder it was almost empty. It’s poorly lit by lamps that stink of petrol, the portions are rather small and it’s expensive (USD 60 both, and my wife did not order an appetizer). There’s also a small stage where three men were playing drums with a monotonous boring rythm, looked like they were going to fall asleep. I ordered the mopane worms, which were OK, first time -and probably last- that I try them; and for main course I tried a bushbuck stew which was good but small. My wife had chicken which she said was allright.

I’ll leave it here for now as this is getting way too long. Coming up: breakfast in Livingstone island, helicopter ride, river safari, falls from Zambian side. Stay tuned.
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Old Aug 27th, 2008, 05:35 PM
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I'm still back at Jack's. I can see why you had high hopes for the brown hyena. So close!
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Old Aug 28th, 2008, 09:54 AM
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Aug 12- still at the falls

This day was action-packed from beginning to end. Fun but tiring.

We started out with a 7:30 am “Livingstone Island morning breezer”. This was our favorite activity at the falls, don’t miss it if you go, unless you suffer from vertigo. I couldn’t believe how close we got to the lip of the falls, literally just inches from it. At some point we had to take off our shoes (I recommend wearing “tevas”) and wade thru knee-deep rushing water, holding hands with the guide for safety. It’s surreal to be at the top of the falls, with the deafening noise, spray all around (they give you raincoats so you don’t get too soaked), seeing multiple rainbows, and the deep chasm right beneath your feet. This is where we took our best pictures of the falls. We couldn’t swim in Devil’s pool because water levels were too high, we were told.

They give you a nice breakfast -eggs benedict- on the island, and then take you back to the RLH, the activity is quite short (back at 9:00). While we were eating breakfast we could see a male bushbuck browsing right on the lip of the gorge on the Zimbabwean side. And when we were boating back to the hotel we saw a dead – at least it looked dead, belly up and all- large crocodile on a rock, like someone had put it there on purpose...

Next, we walked to the viewpoints on the Zambian side, like I said before the views are not as breathtaking as in Zim, but definitely worth visiting. We could see people rafting down below, which we hadn’t seen the previous day, apparently this was the first day in the season they did it because the water levels had been too high until then. Took us around 1hr 30 min to see all the viewpoints, take pictures, etc. didn’t get wet at all.

After that, we went down to the “boiling pot”, a huge whirlpool at the beginning of the 2nd gorge. From there you have awesome views of that gorge from down below, but you don’t see the falls. The walk down is just 600 meters long, very steep at the beginning, then you go through a small rainforest after which the trail seems to reach a dead end. There was a local there that offered to guide us to the boiling pot, which we accepted. This final part is tricky, as you have to climb over boulders, dead trees, cross a small stream, etc, it gets very narrow at some points (had to suck in my belly...), but anyone with normal agility can do it -I’m certainly not fit at all and had no problem.

There was no way we would have reached the “boiling pot” without this guy’s help, so I tipped him $5. I was very surprised when he said “actually, it’s $5 per person”. It was silly of us not to have agreed on a price beforehand, so we had to suck it in. Can’t believe we made such a beginner’s mistake. Oh,
well, whatever. He then tried to sell us some collars, we obviously didn’t buy.

The trek back up is tiring –don’t forget to bring water with you-, but short. The whole boiling pot excursion took us like 1hr 15 min.

We rested a bit, had lunch at the hotel, and then went for the helicopter ride, pick up at 2pm, take off around 2:30, landed 3pm. We did the 30 min flight and enjoyed it enormously, in the first part of the flight the heli goes down into a gorge downriver, very exciting. Then it circles a couple of times over the falls to allow everyone a good shot at them, loved the views from right above the falls. Finally, the heli goes upstream and you can see some elephants on the islands.

The helicopter seats 6 tourists plus the pilot in two rows: the pilot is in the front-left seat, next to him two seats, and the back row has four seats. The best seat is the front-right one, we sat in the back row but still had a fantastic experience.

Upon returning to the RLH, freshened up quickly and back out again for the river safari, pickup at 4pm. We didn’t want to do the typical “booze cruise” in the African Queen and the like, so that’s why we chose the “river safari” which is done in smaller boats that seat up to 9 people- there were 8 in ours. Of all the activities we did in the area, this was the one we liked least, though still enjoyed it. It´s a very short (4:30 to 6:10) activity, you leave from the same place as the African Queen and they let you off at the RLH jetty.

It’s a pleasant ride, you see hippos, crocs, many birds, elephants (saw one swimming from one island to another), and these boats do a different circuit than the “booze cruises” so we were alone in the river half the time. We stopped on an island for a 15 min sundowner, the choice of island wasn’t very good because it faced south-east and we couldn’t see the sun coming down. Actually, our guide miscalculated the sunset time because once we got back on the boat the sun was almost gone and we barely had time to take one or two pictures. It was another lovely sunset. We then drove very fast, going through some rapids – fun but with a couple of big splashes that the guide didn’t warn us about, not nice for the camera.

After the bad experience the night before, we had dinner in the hotel again.

Next: Chobe
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Old Aug 29th, 2008, 11:33 AM
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Chobe riverfront

On Aug 13 we were picked up at 9:30 for a land transfer to Kasane. We had a big van just for the two of us, which was nice, and in an hour reached the Kazungula ferry site. The place is hectic, bustling with people selling food and stuff to the truckers, who easily spend 4+ days waiting to cross the border because the ferry only takes one truck at a time. Crossing the border was easy and quick: got our passports stamped in Zambia, crossed the river in a small fast boat, someone was waiting to pick us up at the other side and took us to the Botswana border post (much cleaner and organized than the Zambian one). After a short van ride we arrived at Kasane around 11:00.

We stayed at The Garden Lodge, liked it a lot. It’s the opposite of the RLH: the place has a family atmosphere, like you’re staying at a friend’s house; it’s a small 8-room lodge run by a German couple (well, she’s really Swedish), really nice people, they made us feel very welcome. It’s located right on the bank of the Chobe river, it has a nice garden with a jetty from where you leave for the sunset cruise. The price is very appealing compared to the more popular lodges in town (USD 260 pppn including meals and 2 activities a day)

Don’t expect extravagant luxuries here, but the basics are very well covered: clean room with flush en-suite toilet, hot water, balcony, electricity to recharge batteries, even AC (not necessary this time of year). There’s also a plunge pool. The food is good, nothing fancy but home made. The decoration is simple, non-pretentious, African-inspired.

The room size is adequate (we were in #4, second floor), with two levels: the main one has the bathroom, balcony and a big comfortable bed with mosquito net, and then there are two small twins on the second level (also with mosquito nets), so it’s a great place to go if you have kids. We slept great, although from the room you can hear the cars passing by Kasane’s main road, not loud at all, you have to listen hard to hear it. But the common areas are completely silent. A funny thing is that there are two mirrors in the shower, not sure what they’re for...

We went to the nearby Barclays to get some Pulas (which in the end weren’t necessary, you can get by with USD at all the camps), there was a very short line contrary to what we’d heard.

Standard activities are game drives in the morning (either 6 to 9 or 9 to 12) and sunset cruises (3 to 6), but they are flexible. We did a “full day” game drive (6:30 to 12:30) on Aug 14, and an early morning game drive (6-9) on the day of departure (Aug 15), plus sunset cruises on both evenings. Since the “full day” drive counts as two activities, we had to pay USD 40 each, they duly informed us of this when we discussed the activities, so it didn’t come as a surprise.

On both game drives we had the vehicle all to ourselves. The cars are Landcruisers with a canvass roof, they have three benches that seat 3 people each, plus two seats up front. We did all activities with the same guide, Calvin, he’s great, has an amazing ability to spot game (eg., spotted a malachite kingfisher sitting on a branch from across the Chobe), he’s very experienced and has a bit of a swagger, in a cool way.

The other guests where mostly German the first night, most of them experienced safari-goers; the second night there was a big change as many Germans were gone and there was a group of first-timer Americans. Very nice people, though too loud during the cruise we shared with them. It was funny how they called every antelope “deer” and the crocs “alligators”.

In terms of game viewing, our first drive (the full day one) was excellent: saw four lions (a big male and 3 lionesses), herd of 15 sable antelope (first time we’ve seen sable), big herd of over 100 buffalo, many elephant –including a baby less than a month old-, puku (also first time for us), many birds. It was good to do a long drive, as it allowed us to get further inside the park and leave the crowds behind. Example: when we say the lions, close to the gate, we counted 16 vehicles around them, but we were all alone where we saw the sable, which was near Ihaha. On our way out of the park we had to help another lodge’s vehicle that had gotten stuck in the sand, their guide seemed clueless and Calvin took charge and pulled them out.

The other game drive (6 to 9 the last morning) was probably the least interesting we did in the whole trip, nothing really worth mentioning. We followed a leopard’s tracks for a while but lost them in the bush -no off-road driving here.

The sunset cruises were great, better than the drives. The garden lodge’s boat seats 18, 6 rows with 3 seats each, which may seem a lot but was actually one of the smallest boats we saw in the river- and there were many. The first day we were 12 guests on the boat, the 2nd 13. The river banks are teeming with wildlife, you are constantly seeing animals: elephant drinking, hippos, crocs, water monitors, red lechwe (another first), baboons, plenty of birds (many fish eagle, king fishes, black heron doing the “umbrella thing”, jacana, storks, etc). The sunsets in the Chobe were probably the best in the trip.

The second night after dinner we had an interesting surprise: 2 hippos and a waterbuck came into the garden (which is not that big) and were grazing there for 10-15 minutes. Apparently, one of the hippos does that almost every night, but the managers where shocked to see two of them. Also during the day a family of warthogs visited the garden several times.

On to Jack’s Camp
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Old Aug 29th, 2008, 04:59 PM
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For people wondering what to do at Vic Falls and what the activities are like, you've given great details. Your account of the "morning breezer" is the closest I'll ever get to doing that. Glad you found it exhilarating.

You had a good Chobe visit. I agree the cruises there are the best. How nice you had visitors in the garden.
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Old Aug 29th, 2008, 05:06 PM
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Torrem,

I took the liberty of copying something about this trip from another post you made because when an agent does the right thing, I think they should get credit.

<i>&quot;As a comparison, let me share with you how our agent dealt with another airline problem (not the same, I know): they had booked the Jo’burg-Livingstone flight for us, as part of our trip to vic falls&amp;botswana, with Nationwide airlines. Then, 2 months before we paid the full amount of the trip, Nationwide went broke, so they moved us to a British Airways flight departing 15 min earlier. No extra cost, no hassle, they just did it and informed us of it (we didn’t even know that Nationwide had gone broke).

I don’t know how they did it, and it’s even possible that the BA flight was actually cheaper and they made money on this, I don’t care. All I know is they took care of it respecting the price they quoted us and they saved us from a potential trip-wrecking situation. This also illustrates that it is not always better to purchase the air tickets yourself instead of through an agent. I met people during the trip that had this problem and ended up having to buy another ticket and were now waiting for a refund for the Nationwide one.&quot;</i>
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Old Aug 31st, 2008, 01:13 AM
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Lynn, thanks for your comments and for pasting in that extra information. I had completely forgotten about the Nationwide incident, but that other thread about airline ticket problems reminded me
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Old Aug 31st, 2008, 01:14 AM
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Makgadikgadi pans (Jack’s)

After the morning drive on the 15th we went back to the lodge, showered, and to Kasane airport. At 10:30 we took off in a 6-seater Cessna, the company was Flying Mission. It was just us in the plane, plus the pilot and a “trainee” (funny that the trainee looked like 50 yo and the pilot like 25...). The flight is 1.5 hrs and you get good sights of Chobe at take off and of the pans when landing, everything in between is barren and boring.

Jack’s Camp. Where do I start. We have mixed feelings about this place, some things we really liked, others we hated. The activities are all very interesting and very different from the other camps. The landscape is beautiful and out of this world, so vast and quiet, it’s worth the visit just for this. The food, excellent, without a doubt the best in the trip.

My major issue with the place, as I’ve already mentioned in previous posts, is the arrogant attitude and the somewhat condescending way they treat their guests. It was the only place where a manager or guide didn’t sit down with us upon arrival to inform us of the activities and make a tentative plan. They make the plan for you, don’t tell you about it -the place is all about surprises, a bit childish-, expect you to love it and get defensive if you suggest changes. To be fair, I have to admit we covered all the activities we were interested in, and in the end (after some insisting) they accommodated my request for a night drive and pre-tea nature drive.

The tent (we where in #9) was spacious but uncomfortable. We didn’t like the decoration, too stuffy. There is really no place to put your clothes (eg, 2 hooks were the only hangers). We had two twin beds when in all the other places we stayed at we had a big one, that’s not really an issue, the real problem is the beds are very short. I’m not a tall person (1.8 m) and didn’t fit in the bed, which is a pain because at night it gets so cold you really have to tuck yourself in completely, so I had to bend my legs and sleep in an awkward position and as a result couldn’t really sleep much; during the day I didn’t sleep either because it gets very hot in the tent (no fan). Also the zipper to get in an out is not practical at all, especially in the morning when you have to go out in the cold to open the front cover of the tent completely to let in some light. We liked the bathroom although the toilet flush didn’t work well.

The tents don’t have numbers anywhere and there are no signs at all nowhere in the camp, so it is easy to get lost and/or end up in the wrong tent, happened to us twice.

Not having electricity in the tent was more of a problem than I expected. The parafin lanterns don’t give that much light, and the heavy&amp;bulky battery-powered torches they give you are not practical. Thankfully, I brought a flashlight from home (strongly recommended if you come here), which came in handy to find things in the semi-darkness. Also this no-electricity thing is a bit phoney, because they do have a generator for the water pump and the kitchen, they just choose not to put lights in the tents for “a more authentic experience”. Whatever.

By the way, the first morning there was no water in the tent because the pump broke down during the night. No light, no water, no good.

Our guide was Super (that’s his name...). He’s probably the best guide we’ve ever had in Africa in terms of experience, knowledge of the area, guiding skills in general and passion, you can tell he loves his job. We didn’t like his style, though, he sounds lecturing when he explains things, and he goes on an on telling long stories about what a good guide he is and how he’s saved many people that got lost in the pans, etc. Definitely has a high opinion of himself, like most of the other guides/managers.

The rest of the guests were a mix of Americans and Europeans, all interesting people although some seemed more into networking than into enjoying the bush, and most of them were on their first safari. It was funny when we were at Chapman’s baobab and someone asked “how do you spell baobab?”, became our catch phrase for the rest of the trip.

On the afternoon of arrival we went to see the meerkats, fantastic experience, and then Chapman’s Baobab, impressive. The only problem is that, in my opinion, the activity is scheduled too late (left at 4:15) so when we got to the baobab it was almost dark and we couldn’t see it well –luckily there was a full moon. I mentioned this during dinner and they took it like it was an insult...

After dinner I went with Super on a short night-drive, we saw aardwolf, jackal, white-faced owl, plenty of spring hares, but, alas, no brown hyena.

The next morning we had the bushman walk, which started 45 min behind schedule because of after-breakfast chit-chat: there were two guests that had been there many times and kept exchanging anecdotes with the guides about people no one else knew. That pssd me off because I could’ve used that time to catch up on sleep. Anyhow, the activity itself was fun and extremely interesting. The bushmen really help you appreciate the small things you normally overlook when on safari. They explained how to interpret tracks, droppings, dig for watery roots, make fire with sticks, eat termites, etc, the usual routine. I loved it when they dug out a scorpion and started playing with it, amazing how they can touch it without getting stung.

Before the late afternoon activity Super took 4 of us on a short nature drive, it was nice (not as hot as in the tent...) and we saw more than I expected: many birds (secretary, ostrich, black and red crested khoraan, kori bustard, lilac-breasted roller,...), kudu (one of them did an incredibly high jump right in front of the car), steenbok, zebra.

Then we went for the quad ride on the Ntwetwe pan, the best activity here. We had to share bikes because there weren’t enough for everyone, so my wife and I took turns to drive, it was thrilling though short (started 4:30). Being in the pan, with complete silence, the white vastness surrounding you, the sun setting at one end and the full moon coming out at the other, is truly magical.

Then the surprises started. As we were driving the quads back to Camp, we saw that they had lit a fire in the middle of the pan with chairs around it, so we stopped for a drink &amp; snacks while we watched the stars come out. Then they said “let’s walk back to the cars”, and as we walked we bumped into the dinner table! We had dinner under the stars in the middle of the pan, with hot coals under our chairs to keep us warm. Cool. Then we walked back to the fire for more drinks and watched the beginning of a lunar eclipse (the eclipse wasn’t a surprise, we knew about it), surreal.

The grand finale came when we were walked to our beds, there in the pan! so we were to sleep in a deserted salt pan in the middle of nowhere, under a star-filled sky, during a full-moon eclipse. The experience of a lifetime. Unfortunately, we didn’t have with us some much needed toiletries&amp;stuff and had to ask to be taken back to camp. Bummer. The whole surprise approach to this is thoughtful, but we wish they had told us in advance so we would have been prepared for a night out and would have stayed. To make things worse, we missed the best part of the eclipse on the ride back...

The following morning we were taken to the pan to have breakfast there with the other guests. Then we walked around the pan looking for fossilized pieces of wood and prehistoric artifacts (spear heads, etc), surprising how many of those there are. Interesting. Then we drove the quads back to camp (this time, one person per quad), had lunch and waited for our ride to the airstrip (1:30 departure). Surprisingly, they never gave us a feedback form, it’s the only camp that didn’t.

Next stop, Mapula
torrem is offline  
Old Sep 1st, 2008, 12:10 AM
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Hi Torrem,

I was interested to read your report on Jack's Camp because DF and I were at San Camp, also operated by Uncharted Africa, on the 8th and 9th July. We received an upgrade after being told that Makadagadi Camp was closed.

We saw 3 brown hyena cubs (pups?) and sat with them for about 30 minutes. An adult brown hyena appeared in the distance but didn't approach the cubs. Abby, our guide was unsure as to whether the visits to the den were disturbing the animals and was going to talk to the researcher working with the brown hyenas, so maybe these visits were discontinued?

San Camp was a strange place - the decor was 1930s-1940s British colonial with a dash of the Arabian nights that I had difficulty relating to the immediate environment. I agree about the guides, qualifications were very important and received several mentions. However, we saw good wildlife, and felt privileged to see the meerkats and the brown hyenas and a family of 5 bat-eared foxes in addition to the more common spring hares, ground squirels, secretary birds and ostrich.

Abby was our guide and she looked after the 2 of us, driving us around in a private vehicle during our stay. She did change our pre-mapped out itinerary when we wanted to swap the bushman activity for the brown hyenas. The food was great, amongst the best we had in Africa.

I also remember how quiet it was at night at San Camp - totally silent for hours with none of the usual sounds of the bush. The only animal that I heard at night was a jackal that used to come and drink from the water pitcher at the front of the tent.

Cheers,



Pol


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Old Sep 1st, 2008, 07:29 PM
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Torrem: great report thus far, extremely informative and entertaining!

That was an interesting read on Jack's Camp, I agree with you I like to discuss and determine what I want to do rather than have it all dictated to me.

I have had my most diverse wildlife sightings at Mapula followed closely by Duma Tau so I'm looking forward to reading about your experience at both.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2008, 01:04 AM
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Thanks. Really enjoying your feedback. I am also very interested in your feedback on Jacks Camp.

Can't wait to hear about mapula which has been getting some great feedback.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2008, 04:55 AM
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Great report so far. Love the detail. I was thinking of Jacks for next year, but always had an uneasy feeling about them possibly being arrogant as they are so isolated and in huge demand. Looking forward to the rest.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2008, 03:59 PM
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I don't recall a guide telling me how many people he had saved.

Did Jack's ask you to keep any of their activities a secret to preserve surprise for future guests? I got that request from San.



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Old Sep 3rd, 2008, 03:05 AM
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It's not polite to criticise guides and then name them. He gave you extra drives and it seems that you were well looked after.
You really shouldn't reveal all the things that happen. Many other people have been more discreet.
Three nights are suggested to get in all the activities. You had two nights which aren't really enough. The meerkat visits are usually in the early morning, which is the best time.
You do Jack's an injustice when they clearly tried to make sure that you saw all that was possible.
You seem to be doing your best to put people off going to Jack's.

It's a camp which offers a very different experience to camps in the delta.
Jan

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Old Sep 3rd, 2008, 01:22 PM
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Thanks everyone for your comments

I'm on a business trip this week, so I probably won't be able to continue the report til Friday.

Treepol, you make me feel so jealous with that brown hyena sighting! you must have been one of the last visitors to see them, they explained the hyenas had disappeared 3 weeks before we arrived, which means they were gone around Jul 25

Lynn, they did ask that we didn’t tell about the night out in the pans. Actually, the way they asked that was interesting, they literally said “please when you recommend Jack’s Camp to your friends don’t tell them about this”...

Botsfan, it wasn’t my intention to criticise anyone, I’m just giving my opinion in as factual and objective a way as possible, that’s why I try to mention both the good things and bad things of each place. Of course perfect objectivity is hard to achieve, so apologies if I’ve been too harsh on Jack’s or offended anyone. I’m not trying to convince anyone not to go to Jack’s (like I said in the report, the landscape alone justifies the visit), just trying to describe what to expect.
Personally, I think three nights here is too much, you can do the key activities (meerkats, quads, bushmen) comfortably in two nights like we did. As for the meerkats, I also had heard that it’s better to go visit them in the morning, but we weren’t given the choice.

It’s true that Jack’s offers a very different experience to other camps, and we liked that, but I think the people there should loosen up a little and cut the “surprise, surprise” crap. Oops, that last part wasn’t really factual &amp; objective... sorry
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Old Sep 4th, 2008, 03:12 AM
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HI Torrem,
Like PB, I am waiting anxiously to read your report about Mapula!
Regards
Rundu

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