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Trip report - mobile camping in Botswana

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I thought I would post a trip report about the mobile camping safari I went on in Botswana, Sept 29 - Oct 16. I apologize in advance for mispelled words, incorrect tenses, bad grammar, being in a totally random order etc.

2 nights Livingston
2 nights Chobe
2 nights Savute, the last afternoon a leisurely boat cruise on the Chobe River
2 nights Khwai community campsite on the border of the Moremi Game Reserve
2 nights in the Xakanaxa region of the reserve
1 night at a remote island in the Okavango Delta (they called this the fly camp - we only had "bare essentials" which mainly meant smaller tents and no cots)
1 night in Maun at a guesthouse (we stayed in chalets)
1 night in the Makgadigadi pans, fly camp
2 nights on the Boteti river (dry) on the border between the Makgadgadi and the Central Kalahari (Meno A Kwena Lodge)
2 nights in the panhandle area of the Okavango Delta at the Xaro Lodge

There were 6 of us on this trip. We did not know each other but we did all know the lead photographer. We all met the first time when we arrived in Livingstone late on the afternoon of the 29th. We spent the first 2 nights at a place called Maramba. Not bad but nothing to write home about. We visited the falls one morning. Before I left I read here on Fodors that the Zambia side was dry and that you should go to the Zim side. I tried to convince them to do that but none of them had researched about this trip and they were all afraid to go to Zim. So we didn't. We viewed the falls in Zim from Zambia. Also ended up on a party boat cruise down the river instead of a small photo opportunity boat. The only photo opp we got on the party boat is when the drunk guys on the other party boat mooned us. Hah!

On the second morning we set off with our guide, Nick, in The Beast for our safari. When we entered camp and it was just like the picture on their website. Big tall trees with the tents. We met the camp staff of 6 young men and they showed us around camp. There were 4 tents and 2 showers and 2 toilets. We were assigned to a tent number and the guys delivered our luggage to our tents.

The food. Breakfast was cold cereals, fruit, coffee and tea. A tea/coffee stop around 9AM with rusks. Lunch was either served in the camp or in a picnic hamper if we were on the road (we were usually on the road). Lunch in the camp was a hot meat dish and a couple of different cold salads, fruits, breads, crackers, cheeses, butter etc. Lunch on the road was very similar but the meats were cold and varied from fried chicken to lunchmeats. Dinners started with soup, followed by a buffet and a dessert. The food was pretty good and I did not notice anyone not eating much except one guy wouldn't eat vegetables. We had many vegetables so his meals were pretty limited. The table was always set as if we were in a nice lodge (including the napkins being folded into a bird) and the food was served buffet style. Wine, beer, G&T's, water, coffee, tea, fruit juices and soft drinks were included in the price. We stopped at a bottle store for anyone to pick up any other alcohol they wanted to drink. Amarula, of course!

The tents. Since I was the only female I had my own tent. (The others 5 were dbl, dbl, single) We had a cot with a thin mattress with regular bedding (bottom and top sheet and a blanket). It was so hot I sincerely doubted I would ever need that blanket. The tent had a canopy over the front, a canvas "patio" in front, and a wash basin and pitcher of water that was filled early every morning and in the evening with hot water. There was a little nightstand with a flash light, bug spray, room bug spray, a water mister, soap, toilet paper and a mirror. Since there was only one bed in my tent I used the extra space for my luggage. Had there been another bed I would have needed to store my luggage under the bed. There was also a battery operated lantern hanging from the ceiling. At night, the staff lit lanterns and placed one in front of each tent, another at the shower/toilets and a couple around the camp. On moving days we packed up our own luggage and left it outside the tent. The guys would pack the luggage in the trailer that we pulled to the next destination. They then packed up the camp in a different truck. They kept the personal items (from the nightstand in the tent) seperate and you would get your own bar of soap back when they set up the camp at the next spot.

Showers and Toilets. The shower tent and toilet tent were the same - a metal frame with heavy canvas on all sides. A 5 gallon bucket with a shower head was hanging by a rope and was filled anytime you wanted a shower. The staff must have kept hot water all the time because you never had to wait on a shower. The canvas around the shower and toilet was heavy enough that when you showered at night and had the lantern inside there was no silhouette (that's a good thing). The toilet was a chemical toilet and served it's purpose.
Sundowners. Most of the places we were did not allow night drives and we had to be in camp by dark. Of course, we were taking pictures until there wasn't any light left in the sky (low f/stops!) so we usually had sundowners in camp around the fire.

Moving days. Normally we would be up at 5 and leave for game drives around 5:30. On moving days we left around 6. After we left on the game drive, the guys would pack up the camp and radio us when they were pulling out. They usually were ready between 8:30 - 9:30. They headed to our next destination the quickest way they could get there. We "game drove" as far as we could and then did the Beverly Hillbilly thing on the "highways" until we could start game driving again. By the time we arrived in our next camp the guys had everything set up and ready. The person that planned our itinerary must have been trying to punish us or something because we did lots of driving. I will say we didn't miss any (or hardly any) games drives because most of the driving was done during mid-day when we wouldn't have been doing anything anyway. But all that driving in that heat (did I mention it was hot?) was just miserable. But the bad part was even when you got where you were going there wasn't any relief from the heat. It was still hot.

Before I signed up for this trip I knew it was going to be hot. I was oh-so-right. It was so hot. So very hot. During the mid-day breaks when we hung around camp it was so blanking hot. Too hot to take a nap. Too hot to look at pictures on the computer. Too hot to read a book. Too hot to breathe. I finally got the spray mist bottle out of my tent and just sprayed myself, face, arms, legs - whatever was exposed - and just hoped for a breeze to cool me off. I ended up carrying that bottle on game drives too. BUT, we would leave for the afternoon game drive around 4 and shortly after it felt like someone turned down the heat. Not that it got cool. It just wasn't quite so hot. So by the time we returned at dark you could actually sit around the fire and have sundowners. (Far away but still around the fire.) It usually cooled off enough around 1AM or so that you could fall asleep pretty good. Some nights I would have to find the blanket (that I had kicked off the bed) before morning. The 2 days we knew the temperature it was 112 and 114.

I'll go ahead and get my complaints about the itinerary out of the way and then talk about the good stuff. Without a doubt we did too much driving. I'm not real sure what I would eliminate except: 2 nights in Livingston was way too long (for all 6 of us). The 2 nights on the Boteti River at Meno A Kwena Lodge could have been skipped. I haven't plotted all of this on a map (I'm really afraid to find out how much we actually drove) but this place was not worth driving out of the way for. (Maybe we didn't - who knows.) We arrived at the camp after a long, hot drive. No one came out to greet us so we got out and walked into the main area of the camp. There were 3 staff members there and they still didn't greet us. Our guide told them we had reservations for the next 2 nights and there still wasn't much reaction. In the mean time we walked around and found this camp was on a high bank of a dry river (dry for 10 years now). At the bottom of the bank they had a bore hole and there was a huge herd of zebra and some wildebeest. Very cool perspective, looking down on them. It was so hot we couldn't stand out in the sun any longer so we moved to the shade of the huge tent they had over the main area. Still hot but the sun wasn't beating down on you. The sky had a few clouds so as soon as a cloud blocked the sun we would go out and take pictures and head back to the shade as soon as the sun was out. The staff did cook lunch for us once they decided we were really staying there. There was no game drive organized for the afternoon so our guide took us around. We didn't see much except a dead zebra with some vultures around it and a very long black mamba that slithered back into the brush as soon as we saw it. The next day we did an all day game drive with our guide and vehicle. 9 am until 7:30 pm. Hot. Hot. Hot. We saw a few oryx, a few zebra, a few eles, a few ostrich, the only secretary birds we saw on the trip. Everything we saw here was far, far away. Back in time for dinner and showers and bed. The camp itself was very nice. Permanent tents, bathrooms in bomas etc. You could hear the zebras making noise all night long. The main area included a large seating area with lots of books to look at and photo albums. The kitchen was there also - separated by a half wall. 2 large dining tables. Just not much game. Maybe it was just the time we were there. The owner of the camp did arrive the second day and apologized for the staff not being aware that we were coming. He said it was his fault.

More bad stuff. There was a lack of communication between the organizer (J, who was also a participant of the safari), the travel agent and the safari company. We were supposed to all have a row of seats per person. They sent one truck with 4 rows of seats. The safari company was out of the office for a 4 day weekend so we could not communicate with them until after that. The extra vehicle would cost $4000 more. J didn't have that $4000 built in to the cost of the trip so no 2nd vehicle. The two leaders of the safari decided they would take the last row of seats themselves and the other 4 could split time between the 3 remaining rows of seats. It worked out okay but it wasn't what we signed up and "paid" for. Another issue was electricity. The digital cameras, portable harddrives and computers all have to be charged regularly and this safari company doesn't use generators. J did bring an inverter with 2 plugs and Nick had one inverter so we were constantly charging stuff and switching stuff around. Nick didn't have a lot of room in the cab of the truck with all of our crap up there charging all the time. Another issue was the refrigerator. It also worked off the battery. Or should I say tried to work. Nick had to turn it off every night to keep from running down the battery in the truck. It didn't work properly and never got cool. The drinks were cooler than the air temp but never cool. He complained to the safari company but they didn't have another to swap it out with.

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