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Trip review August 2011

Blackpool, United...
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Trip review August 2011

I have finally finished my review of our safari this August - we had the most wonderful holiday. Thank you to all the posters on here who helped us to plan our trip, your advice was invaluable.

We eventually decided on mobile camping, as it was the only way we could afford to visit Botswana during August, and booked a 14 day safari with 2 extra days in Livingstone to visit Victoria Falls. We chose to go with Bushways based in Maun on their Elephant trip, and were highly delighted with everything, from first contact to the end of the safari.

There really are not enough superlatives to describe our experiences, but I've tried.

Blackpool, United...
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1. Re: Trip review August 2011

Day 1

Our stay at Maramba River Lodge was great – see separate review on TripAdvisor at tripadvisor.co.uk/…CHECK_RATES_CONT

From the terrace we could watch the large crocodiles sunning themselves on the riverbank opposite and birds swooping around. We met our guide and the rest of the group, and were lucky enough to have a great group of 8 people. Our vehicle travelled to the ferry at Kazungula to cross the Zambezi to Botswana, where we first experienced the semi-controlled mayhem that is the border crossing; Wikipedia calls the ferry a “motorised pontoon” which it is, but flimsy-looking with a very noisy, smelly diesel engine! Nothing happens quickly, but that’s fine as you’re on holiday.

We travelled to Kasane and our first camp at Toro Lodge, where we had lunch surrounded by blue-eared glossy starlings, then off on a cruise on the Chobe River. What an experience – animals and birds absolutely everywhere, with our cameras going into overdrive. Yes, there were several other boats, but it didn’t detract from the experience at all – my notes and photos tell me we saw (take a deep breath here) several hundred elephants, buffalo, large & small crocodiles, kudu, red lechwe, water buck, darter, egrets, many pied kingfishers, 3 varieties of stork, sacred ibis, jacana, Egyptian geese, impala, baboons, giraffes, a water monitor lizard, family of banded mongoose and many pods of hippos. We also got quite close to some, and managed to snap the yawn: this was a first ever sighting and real highlight for me. The sun set behind families of elephants – the first of many fabulous sunsets. It was almost sensory overload – we’d only been on safari for part of one day and already it had surpassed my expectations.

Day 2

Up at 6 to pack the tents (I did wonder if I was mad, I don’t DO early mornings) and off by 7 for the Namibian border (huge baobab trees, great views of the Chobe River plain and so civilised compared to the border crossing of yesterday). Quite a long drive today, but we had plenty of stops and the views were fascinating: small compounds of thatched huts fenced with brushwood, families in colourful clothing waving to us, roadside stalls selling fruit or firewood, sable antelope hiding in the bush, warthogs digging at the side of the road, elephants crossing it – so different to England.

Nambwa Bush Camp was very nice – it seemed surreal to be pitching a tent near elephant dung on the banks of the Kavango River, with a Bataleur eagle soaring overhead, pelicans flying past and the thought of hippos lurking in the reeds.

Our evening game drive led to more spectacular sunsets, this time over a lagoon with baboons playing in the trees overhead and all around us, open-billed storks silhouetted against the water and elephants coming very close to our truck - the sound of branches cracking then the eles gracefully stripping them will live with me for a long time. We were lulled to sleep by the distant rumblings of elephants, and hippos grunting close by.

Day 3

Up at 6 and a game drive to start the day: sightings of several varieties of antelope hiding in the bush, birds on the wing then a troop of baboons playing at the water’s edge by the lagoon. Great views of lilac breasted rollers (my favourite bird) and close to some really colourful ones like crimson breasted shrikes, little bee eaters, a red crested woodpecker and the ubiquitous yellow billed hornbills. For me, the highlight of this drive was the unexpected sight of a leopard padding along the side of the road, posing for pictures then strolling off, glancing over his shoulder at us – a real wow to start the day.

We had quite a long drive, mostly on tarmac road, but with halts to watch elephants, giraffe, kudu, reed buck, zebra, red lechwe and a beautiful little steenbok at various points. At Popa Falls campsite we went for a guided walk in the bush to view the falls, which were more like rapids really, but still pretty. And of course, a sunset.

Day 4

Up at 6 (do you detect a pattern here?) and off to Mahango National Park via a fruit stop on the edge of the delta under the most enormous tree I have ever seen, a baobab. In fact this area seemed to specialise in large things, as we found very clear hippo tracks and couldn’t believe the size of their footprints – my shoe (not small) is about the same size as one toe! There were many birds around, with spoonbills interspersed among flocks of ibis and yellow billed storks, plus lots of egrets.

In Mahango the animals echoed those seen yesterday, but with the addition of giraffe and buffalo, and lots of vervet monkeys scampering about. The border crossing back into Botswana was again a civilised affair, but we were amused to see one of the guards sitting on a wheeled chair surfing on his laptop which was perched on top of a large grey bin/garbage/trash container (depending on where you come from!).

Our site was at Tsodilo Hills, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the middle of nowhere and with very different scenery to what we’d had. The hills are revered by the San bushmen, who painted their rocks with 4500 wonderful depictions of many animals and scenes from their lives, some thought to be as old as 20 000 years. We visited the museum then our local guide took us on a trail to some of the best sites (a bit of a scramble/climb, but well worth it). The paintings are still in great condition, and we admired the artists’ skill in drawing giraffe, rhino, kudu, penguins and whales as well as people. Sunset today was on the hill called Female, where the rocks glowed red and gold in the evening light – I stored the images in my mind’s eye as I think rocks never look as good in photos as the real thing.

Day 5

Again, up before the crack of dawn and were both shaken and stirred on the dreadful dusty potholed road for 40km, but didn’t mind - I had picked this particular safari as I wanted to do one involving watery landscapes and I was really looking forward to spending 3 days in the delta. We put all our gear into motor boats which took us down the channels for about 40 mins, viewing fish eagles and basking crocs on the way, then transferred everything into mokoros. These look like authentic dug-out canoes but are actually fibreglass, and are expertly poled by guys who can turn them on a coin. We floated calmly down narrow channels, passing flowering water lilies and swaying papyrus and just enjoyed the peace.

Our camp was on a small island about 45 mins float away, and our first experience of bush toilets and showers, which were very effective. Both had 4 canvas walls, the toilet being a seat on a frame over a pit, and the “engaged sign” was the presence (or lack) of the toilet roll on a spike! The shower had a large canvas bucket with an inset shower head and tap, which was hoisted over a tree branch. It was very effective, especially with the addition of hot water heated over the fire.

Our first sunset cruise by mokoro on the delta was fantastic – no animals in sight but plenty of birds, especially squacco heron, and Captain and the polers showed us how the Setswana use water lettuce bulbs and their juice as eye drops. He also made a beautiful necklace by stripping part of the outer covering from a waterlily stem leaving the flower attached, and a leaf into a hat which he made my husband wear. Lovely, but NOT one which will be used at home! The sunset was amazing, the sun gradually turning into a red orb which sank gracefully behind starkly silhouetted trees reflected in the liquid gold of the lagoon. The water was so clear and still you could see every individual feathery frond of the reeds – many, many pictures were taken.

We were also able to appreciate the night sky from our camp – because of our isolation, the skies were so dark and cloudless we could see countless thousands of stars. This was our first night camping wild in the bush and we weren’t allowed out of our tents until first light. Just knowing I couldn’t use the facilities made me want to go, and I spent an uncomfortable night listening to the hippos and imagining them marauding round my bed. There was a mad dash in the direction of the toilet tent in the morning, but I got there first.

Day 6

A lie-in! Up at 6.30! After a leisurely breakfast the mokoros took us to Baboon Island for a guided walk. It was a very interesting time, learning all about the flora and watching very small fauna building their termite mounds. The island didn’t live up to its name though, as we saw no baboons at all. After siesta time we had the chance to have a go at poling a mokoro; several of our group tried it, so I thought I’d give it a go – after all, how hard could it be? That question was answered 2 mins later when I wobbled, tried to correct it and made the acquaintance of the water lilies at close quarters.....delta mud clings to everything and causes your friends to laugh uncontrollably. You have been warned.

Our sunset cruise tonight was again fantastic, especially for bird sightings: we saw black-eyed bulbul, darters, knob billed ducks, swallows, Hadeda ibis, little bee eaters and a malachite kingfisher close up, fulfilling a long-held wish of my husband’s. I was again mesmerised by the reflections of the reeds and papyrus, and loved the feeling of floating along hippo-cut channels surrounded by silence with the occasional bird call. Many more photos taken and many “mind pictures” stored away.

Dinner was macaroni in a bacon spicy sauce – the latest in a long line of wonderful food cooked by Gabriel our talented chef. He cooked everything over the campfire, including fresh bread most days – we really looked forward to his meals. We had great entertainment that night, when the polers joined us at the fire after dinner and sang traditional songs and chants. We reciprocated by singing some German evening songs (the rest of our party was German) and teaching them a call-and-response all about Bushways, which they loved. The highlight of the evening was when they sang and danced round the fire – a truly memorable night, and only bettered by the invention of an “en suite” – a cut 5L water bottle kept in the corner of the tent!!

Day 7

Time to leave the delta (yep, you guessed it: starting at 6am) with all the gear loaded into mokoros for the final time. After the transfer to the motor boats we shot down the channels at high speed, a real contrast to the slow float we’d experienced for 3 days – time to get back to the modern world.

We spent the day at Guma Lodge, waiting for our afternoon scenic flight over the delta to Maun whilst our guide drove the truck there. Unlimited water in showers and flushing toilets felt strange but we coped! Captain took us on a guided walk, showing us native plants and trees; vervet monkeys played in the trees over our heads and we tracked an elephant (very carefully!).

The scenic flight was optional, but something I really wanted to do as it was the chance to see the delta from another perspective, and it was worth every cent: you got a snapshot of many different landscapes, from the green/blue of the winding river channels to the white of the salt flats and all points in between, including elephants, impala and hippos.

Landing in Maun, we headed through town on tarmac roads with lots of traffic and people going home from work; our home for the night was Audi Camp, a busy site full of international groups like us and the sound of the local disco – what a contrast to the last 3 days, when peace and solitude had reigned.

Day 8

The second half of our safari started today, with the delicious prospect of 3 different areas: Moremi, Savuti and Chobe national parks, and all nights “wild” camping in the bush. Our travel to western Moremi was on mostly sand roads and the game viewing was wonderful: close to 2 male kudu with their curly horns, red lechwe grazing, ground squirrels exploring the base of a tree, impala everywhere. Young bull elephants were playing at a waterhole (many photos) and were then joined by their families (many more photos) then as we drove slowly away they approached our truck and regarded us calmly (many many more photos).

Between First and Second Bridges our guide spotted lions – our first of the trip, and very exciting. He drove us to within a few feet of where they were resting (my blood pressure was rising by the second), then we watched in wonder as the male sniffed around his mate, mounted her and ....well, you can work out the rest. She seemed bored with the whole procedure, and eventually rolled over to have a sleep. He looked at her for a while, then stalked off; I’m sure he was thinking, “Well, I did my best.”

After setting up camp in a sandy clearing by a pool we were off on our second game drive of the day, just as special as the first but with totally different animals: a water monitor lizard crossed the road in front of us, we saw our first tsessebe, watched 2 different species of jackal hunting, then parked near a tree where 2 cheetahs entertained us. They stalked about on the branches, came down and sprayed their territory then padded about on the grassland in front of us. In all we saw 23 different species of birds, my favourites being the Bataleur eagle soaring overhead and the red faced mousebird flitting from tree to tree.

Day 9

No packing up the tents today (hooray) so we could relax on the morning game drive. There were birds everywhere round camp – chats, shrike, lapwing, bulbul and Kurrichane thrushes with their bright orange beaks. All we had to do was sit very still and they came in their droves. This area also has numerous Guinea fowl and francolin, and we loved watching them scurry around on the ground. Every game drive gave us the chance to see all the animals in their natural habitat and even though the species might be the same as a previous drive, every sighting is different and just as special.

The afternoon drive, however, showed us some completely different species to yesterday: an elephant with its baby, lots of giraffes which we hadn’t seen since the first couple of days, some mongoose, spotted bushbuck, lots of baboons and some dry lion droppings containing hyena bones. Grey louries were in most of the trees showing off their spiky crowns, which looked very impressive in the setting sun (yet more pictures taken). I love a good sunset, and this holiday has certainly provided some spectacular ones.

Day 10

We were up early again, but somehow I didn’t mind – perhaps I’d got used to it, or perhaps it was the prospect of more great game viewing. We drove through the early morning light eastwards towards Khwai and had another first: driving through water, some so deep it came onto the floor of the truck, but thrilling to one who lives in a flat area paved with tarmac. Near Third Bridge we had to change routes several times as the water was just too deep, and some crocs were spotted swimming.....

The animal sightings were exceptional – lots of elephants, small herds of wildebeest and zebras very close, a family of lions playing with their cubs, hippos blowing off in the lake, 2 cheetahs on a tree branch who stalked across the grass then circled our truck (my husband took 96 photos of this and you can run through them like a flicker book!).

The afternoon drive also continued in this vein, the highlights for me being many lilac breasted rollers, hamerkop and our first Kori bustards, being 4m from a herd of elephants including some very small ones giving us a lesson in Stop, Look and Listen before crossing the road right in front of us, and spotting an impala kill stashed under a bush. This was followed by our guide spotting a leopard’s tail dangling from a tree (he saw it whilst driving on a challenging road – how do they do that?) and parking the truck right underneath it. The leopard eventually woke up, did lots of stretching and yawning then strolled down and jumped off, went for a drink in a puddle and proceeded to eat its kill while we watched in awe from about 3m away. What a day.

Oh yes – and the sunset was spectacular!

Day 11

We had a disturbed night last night, being invaded by a herd of young bull elephants intent on breaking and felling trees very close to us – not being allowed out of the tents made it even more scary, but our guide scared them off with a thunderflash and normal service was resumed for all – except me, who unbelievably slept through the whole thing: trees falling, loud cracking, ground shaking and everything!!

Travelling to the Khwai Gate we crossed a very rustic bridge where we had to get out and walk, and watched the truck carefully negotiating the pile of logs it was made from. Many jokes were made about the Bridge on the River Khwai..... It was a very dusty, bumpy ride, enlivened by a fruit stop with the chance to examine lots of tracks made by lions, impala and elephants.

We were surprised to see one lone elephant high up on the escarpment amongst the rocks of Savuti, then encountered an ostrich foraging in the grass next to the road. Our campsite was a large area full of grey dusty sand, exactly the same shade as my trousers so at least the dirt didn’t show! It was FULL of hornbills, both yellow billed, red billed and grey ones, and the yellow ones were certainly the most adventurous, coming almost up to our feet and surveying us from their perches in the trees.

Our afternoon trip to Savuti marsh showed us more vehicles than we’d seen all week – 7 in all – and we all watched the sun set behind buffaloes and wildebeest.

Day 12

Off to Chobe today after our customary early start (I’m an expert now) and left the wilderness behind, using 3 different road surfaces including a superb new tarmac one built by Chinese workers. We called at a craft centre to see the beautiful baskets made by a womens’ co-operative and admired the well-kept thatched houses surrounded by vegetables – it seemed strange somehow to see tomatoes and cabbage growing just like they do in England.

Our camp was on the ridge overlooking the Chobe flood plain, and the terrain here was very different to anything we’d encountered, being full of small rocks and umbrella acacias. The views over the plain were wonderful, with HUGE herds of zebra and impala as far as the eye could see, and on the land side were lots of giraffe, warthog, kudu and troops of baboons grooming each other. There were also many birds, including storks, herons, greenshank and the comical ground hornbills, so different to their much smaller cousins with colourful bills. Another common species was soldiers on patrol, keeping the poachers and illegal immigrants from Namibia at bay – they didn’t detract from yet another wonderful sunset, though.

Day 13

Our last full day of safari (in the animal viewing sense) and it proved to be an absolutely stunning one. Our morning game drive through Chobe showed us many sightings of animals, too many to name but including large hippo pods mud-bathing and swimming, many herds of giraffes memorable for the amount of youngsters they had with them, and the best of all, several elephant families feeding on the trees; one very small calf came right up to us and put its trunk on our truck, watched by mum and 10 people all holding their breath. Cameras in overdrive!

In Kasane we were amused to see a notice offering a Land Rover for sale: the price asked was 79 000 Pula or a negotiable number of cows – NOT commonly asked for in the UK! The city with people and traffic was a bit of a culture shock, and we were glad to escape back to the peace of the bush, where we did our final game drive – and what a finale. It was mostly along the banks of the Chobe, looking across the river at crocs and lizards, cormorants and egrets, zebra and impala, and being surrounded by giraffes and baboons. It culminated in watching nearly 100 elephants pass us on the sand, form into family groups then swim across the channel, with small ones holding on for dear life to the tails of larger ones. The sight of all those magnificent animals using their trunks as snorkels as they swam, then exiting the water to stand as silhouettes in the setting sun, will stay with me forever. And to cap it all, it was the most spectacular sunset of the whole trip, with strips of cloud enhancing the shades of red, gold, orange and blue. Toasted marshmallows and story-telling round the campfire just capped a perfect day.

Day 14

We needed no telling to get up by now, and packed up in double-quick time for our trip to the ferry to Zambia and Victoria Falls. There was a HUGE queue of trucks but we were lucky enough to get straight on to the ferry, where we were taken aback by the open smuggling of drinks – mokoros arrived at the side, crates of bottles were very speedily loaded onto them, then the oarsmen shot off as fast as they could paddle. The border hadn’t improved at all in the 2 weeks since we’d been there, but we got through all the formalities unscathed (though this time I didn’t brave the facilities, they were smelly enough last time) and set off for Livingstone.

This afternoon was spent at Victoria Falls – what a treat. My husband has always wanted to visit after reading about it in an adventure story as a child, and it was quite emotional to be here. We’d seen the signs advertising raincoats for sale, but even those didn’t really prepare us for just how wet we would get. As you stand on the edge of the canyon, you are across the ravine from the falls, but its just like standing under a shower – and this is the dry season. It wasn’t unpleasant though, just very WET! I kept my camera under my armpit in an attempt to keep it dry, and just brought it out to snap a quick picture (well, lots of quick pics actually), but the place is so photogenic its hard not to take anything and everything: the falls, the rocks, the rainbows, the vegetation, the resident baboons, us at the falls etc etc.

We walked the rim path then decided we’d like to see the falls from a different perspective, so we hiked the trail down to the Boiling Pots, where the Zambezi turns a corner to go under the bridge into Zimbabwe. We felt very intrepid: late 50-somethings, hot, tired from a 2 week safari, trekking down 650m of steep trail, but it was definitely worth it – swirling, bubbling masses of water churning in giant whirlpools, the “smoke” of the falls looking up the gorge and the road bridge high overhead in the other. A family of baboons chose to share a group hug in front of us, and palm-fringed glades providing shade for colourful birds to swoop about just added to the beauty. The climb back up was another matter though – we had many, many pauses for reflection and discussion on exactly why we had chosen to do this...

Before returning to Maramba Lodge for the evening meal we admired the skilfully carved animals and attractive baskets at the craft market and haggled for bargains (I got a great hippo). Our last evening was tinged with sadness, as we would all go our separate ways the following day, but we had wonderful memories of our trip – and of course, many, many pictures!

Last day

We’d chosen to stay an extra day to explore the Livingstone area and started with a relaxing morning to say farewell to our new friends followed by a trip into Livingstone itself. We had a great taxi driver who gave us a commentary on all the sights, then dropped us at the museum. We spent an interesting couple of hours learning all about the history of Zambia and about David Livingstone, then headed off for the microlight flight we’d booked.

I was not at all sure about doing it as I don’t like exposed edges/ledges - suffice it to say that the first minute was not comfortable, but then the excitement of doing it all took over: here I was, floating in a bright blue sky, looking down over the islands and rapids of the Zambezi, then swooping right over Victoria Falls with its rainbows, spray and swirling pools; we tracked over and around the falls, then headed up the river, sighting a pod of hippos having a swim. As we came in to land, a herd of elephants was foraging right on the edge of the runway: I really was doing all this in Africa!

Finally, off to the Royal Livingstone Hotel for sundowners, and spent our last evening watching the sun set over the top of the falls – a fitting end to a great holiday.

You can see some of our pictures on the Bushways page of Facebook, (just put Bushways in the “find friends” search box) or if you want a longer browse there is a larger selection at https:/…

Toronto, Canada
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2. Re: Trip review August 2011

Fantastic review! I love these types of reviews! Sounds like you had a fantastic time. I really can't wait until Jul 2012 when I plan to go...only 10 months to go...

Fantastic photos as well!

Blackpool, United...
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3. Re: Trip review August 2011

Thanks Daniel - we did have a wonderful holiday, and I am quite boring on the subject to anyone who is prepared to listen!

It was so hard trying to get a representative selection of photos (5072 is a heck of a lot to sift through) and so many good pics didn't make the cut - but then again no-one wants to see 50 of the same elephants.

Glad you enjoyed the review, I really enjoyed writing it - and will look forward to seeing yours in 11 months!

Silver Spring...
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4. Re: Trip review August 2011

Very skillful wrinting, you made me feel I was there. Thanks.

One question, how many or how much memory did you bring for the cameras?

Blackpool, United...
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5. Re: Trip review August 2011

Thankyou - writing it made me re-live it too.

I took 16GB for my 12 megapixel camera and didn't fill it; my husband had 2 cameras, 10mp and 12mp with long lens, took 16GB for the 10 and 32 for the 12 and filled approx half on both. We both snapped with no thought for memory (5072 pics between us) so we had way more than enough. He estimates half what he took would be fine - they were all stills as neither of us took more than a few seconds video.

Hope this helps.

Toronto, Canada
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6. Re: Trip review August 2011

Just a question on Day 1. Did you get a flight to Kasane from Joberg or did you fly to LIvingston and get a transfer from there to Kasane?

Blackpool, United...
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7. Re: Trip review August 2011

We flew via Joburg to Livingstone with SAA, spent the night there as we arrived in the afternoon and needed to pick up the safari at 10am. We chose to do it that way as it meant we had a bit of recovery time before we started the safari. Our trip included the transfer to Kasane, but I'm sure you could fly into there instead.

We enjoyed the extra night in Zambia (we chose the same place where the safari would finish) and the border crossing across the Zambezi to Kasane was quite an experience.

Cornwall England
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8. Re: Trip review August 2011

A great review and love your photgraphs of the snorkling elephants. I hope I see them when we go next June. That microlight looks so scary but amazing, I will have to look into it when we are at the falls on our last three nights. Charlie

Blackpool, United...
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9. Re: Trip review August 2011

Thanks for the kind remarks.

The microlight flight was truly amazing, very scary at first but then I relaxed and enjoyed it. Its 15 mins (or 30 if you want to fly over the national park as well) and not cheap but worth every penny for the views of the falls, as you have totally unrestricted views. You may or may not get that if you do the helicopter ride (even more expensive!) depending on how many people are on your flight, as you could end up being the middle of 3. Also you have to take your pics through plexiglass.

The slight drawback is you can't take your own camera in the ml and have to purchase their pics at $20, but you do get all the pics of you and your flight plus a great selection of other pics taken at different times of the year.

My wholehearted recommendation is to do it!

Milan, Italy
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10. Re: Trip review August 2011

Thanks for sharing your experience, I loved reading your report, it makes me re-live my trip! When I started thinking of Botswana, I thought to book the Elephant trial, as I found it sold by an Italian agency. Then I change my mind, but it has been nice to read your report about this particular itinerary!

While reading, I was "rooting for you", hoping that you were just going to see this or that animal :)))

Loved your pictures, too, especially the male lion, which we unfortunately missed

Edited: 18 September 2011, 23:02