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Trip Report My Magical Southern African Photography Safari: A Trip Report

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This is going to be a very short trip report and then I'll be happy to answer any questions about the camps that I know the answers to. (link to images at the bottom of this post if you want to go directly to the images : )

First of all, I have to thank so many of you, namely christabir, cw, KathBC and KayeN for your invaluable advice about Southern Africa and Mala Mala Camp and Mashatu Camp specifically. Other than Morocco and Egypt, I had never been anywhere in Africa and I was not expecting to fall in love. And fall in love I did. You said I would, and I did.

The start: I traveled non stop business class from Atlanta to JNB and it could not have been a better flight. I had a great seat (thanks to Flyer Talk recommendation), excellent food, friendly flight attendants, and I slept for over ten hours of the 16.5 hour flight. Upon arrival I stayed at the JNB Intercontinental which is literally steps outside the arrival door. It's a lovely hotel with all the amenities you would expect in an Intercontinental. I had dinner with my photography guide and the owner of the tour company--it was a nice arrival. The next morning, we took a short shuttle to the Federal Air terminal and boarded the 9 AM flight to Mala Mala. Mala Mala has it's own runway so you are picked up by a ranger and five minutes later, you are at the camp.

I was on private safari with a South African wildlife photography guide who traveled with me. My photography guide started his career a ranger at Mala Mala, so between him and the our dedicated ranger, Dave, they certainly knew their way around the reserve. Our ranger was also a photographer, so it was a great fit. I had great opportunities for images and since I had my own land rover, I could spend as much or little time as I wanted with animals. One morning, we got out of the land rover, lay in the grass, and just hung out with zebras and impala for hours. I had never taken even one image of an animal before, so I had a steep learning curve, but all was great and I had a terrific instructor.

Mala Mala camp was fantastic. I had a huge room that was close enough to registration so that I had Internet in my room. The ranger told me that the following week they were doing a major upgrade on the internet, so maybe all the rooms will have it now. Food was plentiful, hot and good. It was certainly not gourmet, but tasty and satisfying. I found the tone and friendliness of the camp perfect. The decor was understated and the bathrooms a bit dated, but fine. Most importantly, I had great photo opportunities--even just sitting for coffee on the deck and having five lions walk by. One afternoon, three of the big five were on the lawn or river bed directly in front of the deck. I saw a leopard every day which was great as well as lots of babies-- lion cubs, baby giraffes, and tons of elephant babies. It was cool and overcast, but overcast is great for photography. It only rained one morning. The game drive was cancelled that morning, but it was day three and was actually a welcomed break. The three of us spent the morning going over images and selecting our favorites. It was fun. The camp also arranged a lecture and video on the wild dogs that had been on the reserve for months. The sun came out at noon, so the afternoon drive was on. The camp was pretty full. People were friendly and you eat in the bomba at night as a group with your ranger and my guide, so it was perfect for me. For those who were wondering about any changes in the camp since the sale, there seems to be no change at all. And, cristabir, I think it was you who asked, they do still walk you to your rooms at night--a strict camp rule. The place had lions within feet of the deck every day when I was there and elephants and leopards walking through the camp as well--there was no way I was walking by myself to my room anyway--that's just stupid.

Oh, a note about luggage weight. As you know before the trip, I was obsessing about luggage weight. I was careful to stay within my 20kg limit total which meant I had to be very careful with clothes since my camera equipment, computer etc weighed 13kg. Didn't leave a lot of weight for clothes, but I figured it out. Turns out the only place that anything was weighed was getting on the airplane at JNB and Federal air and they only weighed the baggage going in the baggage compartment, not carryon. After that no one weighed anything. However, they could have weighed the luggage and I really didn't need any more than I brought. It was a good experience for me as I over pack all the time and rarely wear more than half of what I take with me. I wore everything I brought with me, and even had an outfit for dinner. I had black skinny pants and a black tunic with different lightweight shawls and necklaces with wedge sandals. It was nice to have a non-safari outfit to put on for dinner after showering. I sent out laundry every day. Side note: I didn't send out underwear (aka "smalls") as things dried so quickly, but there were check boxes at both camps for "underwear" and "socks" on the laundry list, so maybe things have changed as they seem to do all laundry now.

There is a direct flight between Mala Mala and Mashatu with a stop in Polokwane for South Africa exit immigration. There were only four of us on a ten passenger airplane so everything went quite quickly. We arrived at Limpopo Valley Airport, were checked in by immigration, picked up by our ranger "Fish" and were at Mashatu 25 minutes later. I love the cottages at Mashatu. They are so much nicer and more chic than Mala Mala. The bathrooms are fabulous. I have to say that I really likes Mala Mala, but I loved Mashatu. Every day at Mashatu, you feel you are coming home to family. they are so warm and friendly and welcoming. There were only a few of us at the camp for the first two days of my stay so it was practically private. Unfortunately (for me, not the animals) there had been an unusual rainy period a few days before our arrival so there was water everywhere and the Photo Hides were pretty silent. That being said, we had great animal sitings and I really did love Mashatu. A fun an great feature was the food. OMG, it was delicious. The head of food and beverage, whose name is Steve, was just brought over from Mombo Camp six months ago. Seriously gourmet--so much better than Mala Mala camp. Far above my expectations and I'm a "foodie". Lamb curry like you'd get in Delhi. Squash soup that was both delicate and insanely flavorful. Beef wellington, venison, amazing vegetables. Afternoon tea is almost beyond description.

It was cool and overcast most of the time that I was at mashatu as well, but that was fine with me. I hate heat and overcast can be great light for images. Oh, and the land rovers are Mashatu are far superior in comfort to those at Mala Mala.

There is now a twice a week non stop flight between Limpopo Valley Airport and JNB. A gorgeous twin engine airplane with fantastic staff. Our flight was at 1PM which was so great. We had a terrific morning game drive, a leisurely breakfast and had plenty of time to pack up and get to the airport without any rush We arrive at JNB in 90 minutes--right at the man airport I had a 7PM flight back to Atlanta which left right on time and was back in my home in Boston in less than 19 hours.

The things that I would suggest in addition to sports bras and other wonderful tips that I received before my trip, are to bring lubricating eyedrops and have them with you at all times. The wind and dust in your eyes all day is really hard on your eyes. Also a neck gator that protects your neck from sun and can be pulled over your face for dust, or used to pull back your hair--it's sort of an "all in one" useful item. Lastly a close hat to wear in the morning or anytime there isn't sun. My Tilley hat is great in the sun, but in a windy vehicle, when you don't need the brim, but need something to keep your hair from blowing into a big knot, a close-type hat is great. I brought a cotton version like kids on the street wear today. Lastly, ladies, bring Moroccan Argan oil for your hair. I could not believe what a dry mess my hair was--no amount of hair conditioner made any difference--you need oil in addition to that. I have nice hair, but I felt like I just had a haystack on my head. I went out and bought some this week to have in my travel pack so I don't forget next time.

OK, that's about it for my quick trip report. It was a fantastic, amazing, rewarding trip. I loved every minute of it.

I came back with around 4000 images (don't worry, I've edited : ) . I'm still going through them. I love everyone and getting them down to 130 was hard, but I did

So, below is a link to 130 of some of my favorites from my safari. I hope you enjoy them. The images are on Facebook, but this is a **public link that anyone can see**, even if you do not have a Facebook account.

Images: A Magical Southern African Safari:

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