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Sneak Preview Report...Lower Zambezi and South Luangwa...

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Well, I must be brief because I only have about 15 minutes free before I board my flight from Joburg to London.

First off, let me say that I love Zambia more than ever, and I will never return to Italy again unless it is on a top cruise ship like Radisson, Seabourn, Crystal or Silversea. While Zambians are the warmest and friendliest people I have ever met throughout my travels, Italians, on the other hand, are the least friendly and most unappreciative people I have ever met.

In any event, I will just write a couple paragraphs about Italy since I need to justify my villification.

Perhaps it was the fact that I was travelling with a group of 40 people half the time or the fact that I was staying in 3.5* hotels, rather than in 5* hotels, but even so, everything was a was if they wanted a confrontation in half the places, and I am talking from the bottom all the way up to the hotel managers.

Why Americans continue to flock to Italy is beyond me. It was a zoo and I was there in late May...I hate to imagine what late June - early September is like in Italy when there are twice as many people.

Moving on...the Lower Zambezi is a beautiful area but Kulefu, unfortunately, is Star Of Africa's "Red-Headed Step-Child." While it was right on the riverfront a couple years ago, a flood took care of that, and now it sits back about 1,500' from the riverfront...not a terribly long distance, but enough so that you cannot just sit on your porch or balcony to enjoy the view.

The managing couple, Andy and Catherine, and the primary guide, Morad, and the rest of the staff, were really the only positive things that this camp has going for itself. They were very low on supplies for our entire four night stay, as they awaited a supply truck coming in all the way from Livingstone or Lusaka. The manager actually had to beg of tomatos from a lodge a few miles away to satisfy scaredtodeath's dietary requirements.

Also, unfortunately, the game viewing was poorer than at any camp I have ever experienced. I do think I just had a streak of bad luck because right before I arrived, one of the other guests was just returning from a game drive on which he saw not one, not two, but THREE leopards...that is two more leopards than I saw during my entire 11 nights in Zambia, having many other close calls where I just happened to be in the wrong vehicle or arriving a day late.

It was COLD in Lower Zambezi, dipping down to about 40 degrees f. each night. Three blankets and hot water bottles were fine for sleeping but game drives were not very comfortable.

Also, I wanted to do a couple game walks but Kulefu could not get a ranger. I was so disappointed with the gameviewing and lack of bush walks that I actually braved the hippo and croc infested Zambezi River, not once, but twice! We literally went through walls of 30+ hippos a couple times and at other times, while in narrow channels not more than 10 meters across, waited for 5 minutes for a descending hippo to surface, only for the hippo not to surface and then paddle for our lives through the narrow channel. Again, I was so bored that I did this not once, but twice!

I did have a chance to see Kasaka River Lodge and that is a beautiful first class camp! I regret not taking them up on their offer of $300 pppns, $100 pppns more than Kulefu, but a million times nicer. Kasaka even had a resident jack russell/dachsund mix named Vodka that I am sure scaredtodeath would have loved the entire time.

Anyway, thankfully my trip did not end at Kulefu, but it did take the wind out of our sails before arriving to South Luangwa.

South Luangwa is the best! My four nights at Kaingo were a lot of fun and Kaingo was really nicer than I had expected. Plus it was in a very isolated northern part of the park, with no other operating lodges anywhere close. Only once during our four nights did we encounter another vehicle.

Our gameviewing was much better at Kaingo. Although I didn't see a single leopard, we did see lions, hyenas, too many elephants, giraffe, zebra, puku, impala, kudu, genet (sp.?), civet (sp.?), mongoose, thousands of hippos and crocs, and the best birding that I have ever seen anywhere.

Derek Shenton is a really nice, down to earth, guy, and his mother and niece were in camp at the time and they were both great. Our primary guide, who also acts as the assistant manager (with Derek Shenton and his femme-du-jour, Juliet, act as the primary managers), was a British guy named Ian, who formerly ran Kulefu two years ago when it was still known as Kiambi, before Star Of Africa bought it out.

Ian was really nice and very knowledgable, guiding for the last 20 years, after first coming to Zambia to act as a teacher in the Copperbelt region, but then being offered a job by a game lodge owner that he met at the airport the night before he was due to return to England. 20 years later he is still there and seems to love it.

Ian did show us his guest register from Kiambi (Kulefu) and it does seem like it used to be a great place, but he says now the very best place is Chiawa, with Sausage Tree Camp next.

Anyway, the honeymoon suite at Kaingo is not ultraluxurious, but it is very nice and has its own private outdoor bathtub overlooking the Zambezi. We paid only $160 pppns for this room and it was well worth it. I am sure that this was probably close to half price, but I don't feel too terrible about paying just a fraction more than the rest of Southern Africa, instead of being charged full American/European rates.

Kaingo was very flexible and after we had our sattelite phone stolen by some piece of **** Italians at the airport (after it was checked in), Kaingo allowed us to use their sattelite phone, although we did have to pay $3 USD per minute. The Italians also got us for our DVD player which made Kulefu hell for scaredtodeath. At least Kaingo allowed scaredtodeath access to the kitchen and she had a blast doing a lot of the cooking and hanging out with the staff.

I am nearly ready to board, but moving onto Chichele Presidential Lodge, all I can say is that in my opinion it is right there, neck and neck, with SINGITA! Nic and Tracy are the very best managers that I have yet encountered. Besides being great people, Nic is the best guide that I have yet come across...he really is deserving of his own television show and leads each game drive and bush walk as if he is leading you through a television show. Tracy was a sweetheart and allowed scaredtodeath use of her laptop computer for the entire three nights so that she could watch her DVD's that the Italians left behind.

We passed on our two nights at Puku Ridge, not wanting anymore tented camps after our bad experience at Kulefu, and Star Of Africa tried to charge us $40 pppns more for our extra two nights at Chichele but we refused to pay it and after telling them about our experience at Kulefu, they quickly yielded and apologized.

But, I did have the opportunity to visit Puku Ridge and it is an incredible lodge, with HUGE rooms, and beautiful common areas overlooking a nice plain with plenty of game, even in early June. By August it just must be filled with game.

The food at Chichele was least as good as Singita. The only place it fell short of Singita was with the room, yet the room was still bigger than most junior suites or even suites, at a hotel. The room measured about 800 sq. ft., but with the balcony, I am sure that it was closer to 1000 sq. ft.

The common areas at Chichele are BEAUTIFUL. It would have been absolutely perfect if they had music going at dinnertime. It is such an elegant place and the staff was the best staff I have experienced at any game lodge, including Singita.

On one of our morning game drives, Nic entertained the request of the guests in the vehicle and instead of arriving back to the lodge by 9AM for breakfast, he kept going on the game drive until after 1PM!!! It was over a seven hour game drive and the best drive I have ever had. Although we didn't see leopard, there was plenty of other game and just his knowledge and patience to explain everything made it the best drive I have had yet.

On another day, we went out for a bush walk, and we really walked! It was just over four hours and we must have covered at least 9 miles and encountered at least five groups of elephants. While the elephants were close enough to take good photos, Nic never put us in harms way.

Even at the full rack rate of $425 pppns, Chichele would be totally worth it, but I am sure that a better rate is possible, as the lodge was only at 30% capacity (3 rooms out of 10). There was another American couple staying there and they paid the full rack rate, and while I felt bad for them in the beginning, after our political stances did not agree, I have no regrets.

If I had to do this trip over again, I would have not combined Italy with Zambia...just too long. Also, I would have opted for 10 nights in South Luangwa, and left out the Lower Zambezi, staying three nights at Kaingo, three nights at Puku Ridge and three nights at Chichele. Although Puku Ridge and Chichele are only separated by perhaps 3 kilometers (2 miles), they are both such great places that I do think they are each worthy of three nights. Also, Kaingo is in a very unique area and offers a completely different, but quality, experience.

That's all for now...I have plenty of great pics to post in the coming days.

Cheers. :)

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