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Little Kwara and Sandibe - Okavango Delta, Botswana


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johnkok

Little Kwara and Sandibe - Okavango Delta, Botswana

March-April 2013

My Trip Report - such as it is

 

I write from the perspective of what I myself would have liked to have known as I was planning such a safari in this area and for this time of year. I was helped while planning this safari by others on SafariTalk and I hope that my report will in turn be helpful to others. But I stress that these are purely subjective opinions. As they say, your mileage may vary.

 

So firstly, a bit about myself so as to put what I say in context. My wife and I have gone on many safaris - mostly in Africa. We have never done self-drive and have no plans to do so. We are both avid (but amateur) wildlife photographers, and do lug quite a lot of big and heavy camera equipment. Our desire these days is to witness and photograph "events" - the priority being to be able to follow a predator as it stalks while hunting. We also therefore end up "wasting" a lot of game-drive time just hanging around, waiting (and hoping) for the predators to get up and start moving around, and hopefully to spot some game and start some serious hunting.

 

We also like to shoot birds, especially birds in flight. This provides lots of fun for us, especially when the mammals are not cooperating.

 

Well - this will be the first installment - the short version - and maybe even the only version.

 

1. Kwando's Little Kwara in March-April 2013 for 5 nights

1.1) Not as hot as I had feared, knowing LK did not have electric fans in the rooms

1.2) Many coalitions of lions - saw 6 of 7 (several of whom are showing their age a bit, but lots of roaring as they dominate), 1 of a 2, and 2 of a another coalition of 2 young strong and healthy males whom I guess will be challenging others soon; good news is they walk obligingly on the road for long periods; bad news is 1,750 sq.km (675 sq.miles) is huge, and the 7 went way east and we never saw nor heard them again after the initial 2 days

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1.3) Coalition of 3 cheetah brothers - now nearing the end as they are around the 10-year mark; still strong and healthy looking, but becoming timid and lazy; Hobbs our guide said their behaviour has clearly changed over the years; sat with them for hours on several game drives - all we had were strolls to mark territory, and lots of lying down, even when all the Guides "knew" they were already hungry

1.4) Had an exciting evening tracking down a leopard which was heard calling just as we were packing up after sundowners. Found it, but it was very skittish and shy.

1.5) The main channels were running swift and strong, so birding action was reduced; compared with August 2010 (in Eagle Island Camp also in the Delta), where birds were flying off left right and centre when we were on the boat, there were scarce few here; and it is extremely hot for the first hour of the boat ride

1.6) Birding - saw a decent but not great variety; lots of sightings and shots of various bee-eaters, rollers and such. Of the kingfishers, lots of Pied but nary a Malachite; lots of Woodland and a few Striped and Grey-headed; shots of Senegal Coucals here and there.

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1.7) Grass was just turning brown from green and middling long. Visibility into the bush is so-so. Shots of animals will have grass in the way more often than not. This also often wreaks havoc with auto-focus - especially true with the not-often obvious ones that are some distance from the animal.

1.8) Generator only switched on twice a day for the whole camp - during the hours of the game drives; generator re-charges the car batteries under each room, which power the in-room electric lights. Water from the tap is mostly brown turning slowly lighter as it flows. Hot water is gas heated in each room. All re-charging of camera batteries and Notebooks have to be done in the office. The inverter in the Lounge can handle recharging some batteries but not my Notebook. On my last days there, the inverter totally gave up the ghost and would not work even for the camera batteries.

1.9) Food - it's only so-so. I heard other guests rave, so this is entirely subjective and as with all other such things, only my personal opinion.

1.10) People - Hobbs, our Guide whom we booked in advance for an extra fee, was as good as the recommendations of several SafariTalkers; he is a knowledgeable guide who warmed up more as he got to know us. There were many instances where his expertise was truly evident to us. Chester our tracker was as skilled, pleasant and cheerful a young man as one could wish for on a safari. Lizzie runs a tight ship. Dutch, another Guide, made for fun conversations around the dining table.

1.11) Miscellaneous - they take care of laundry. Morning drives were cool with the wind in your face, but not so cold as to need winter gear. Flies all around but did not get bothered by mosquitoes - in any case the insect repellent seemed to work well. Did need lots of sunscreen, even with the roof on the vehicle. Little Kwara vehicles have only two rows of three seats each - so there is lots of leg room. Flight time from Maun to Kwara is about 30 minutes; airstrip is only 10 minutes from Camp.

---

2. andBeyond's Sandibe in April 2013 for 5 nights

2.1) Flight time from Kwara to Chitabe airstrip is only 15 minutes; drive from airstrip to Camp is at least 30 minutes, if not longer. Flight time back to Maun is 15 minutes.

2.2) Even from the end of March and into early April, it felt cooler by the time we got to Sandibe. And there's electricity in the rooms, including an electric ceiling fan. In addition, the rooms were cooler because they were not only made from wood and canvas.

2.2) Started with a bang as a pack of 8 wild dogs were in the concession. Sat with them the first afternoon but they did not go hunting when they woke. Managed to follow them the next morning as they hunted but we had to abandon our chase as they went into an area near the Chitabe camp. Found and followed them on another drive but this time we were foiled as they crossed the river which separates the concession from a Moremi area which is totally off limits to all tourists. Cats on the hunt walk, stalk and stop often. Following dogs on the hunt is action all the way. There is no question in my mind that the ability to go off-road made it chalk and cheese between this Botswana safari and the Zimbabwe safari in both Hwange and Mana Pools last October.

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2.3) Also managed to follow different cheetahs off-road as they hunted on different drives.

2.4) Spent quality time with a nice pride of lions in the early morning as they played with the cubs of different ages, called to others in the pride who were not with them, and generally gave us a grand show - short of an actual hunt.

2.5) Leopards - tracked down and followed a sub-adult female (which obligingly climbed up a tree and posed), and on our final game drive, tracked down the whole family, with brother eating a steenbok, sister impatiently waiting her turn, and mummy sitting nearby. On another drive, a leopard posed beautifully out on a limb at dusk.

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2.6) Lots of water in pools and ponds spread all around (there's no boating activity at Sandibe). Lots of large birds - numerous Wattled Cranes, Whistling Ducks, Spurwinged Geese with lots of activity (many firsts with their in-flight shots). Definitely saw and shot more birds in Sandibe than in Kwara. Even managed a Malachite Kingfisher when I least expected one. Not to mention another first - a shot of two Lilac-breasted Rollers in flight together. Unlike Kwara, no Senegal but lots of Coppery-tailed Coucals.

2.7) Environment seemed to me a little more wet than Kwara, with all those little pools and ponds and swamps everywhere, but this is just an impression. They are not really that different.

2.8) With power being available all the time, the afternoons in camp could be spent working on photos, something I could not do in Kwara. I spent Kwara afternoons lying on the wooden floor (the padded seats were just too hot) in the lounge area because there could be a breeze blowing through occasionally, unlike in the rooms. Ironically, because of the game and their activity, we spent more time out on game drives and less time in camp at Sandibe than at Kwara.

2.9) Food - definitely better than at Kwara. We ended up buying the andBeyond cookbook. This was not our first andBeyond safari camp, and we had come to expect this level of food preparation. Their food is definitely the best amongst the large operators we have stayed with - i.e. comparing andBeyond against Wilderness and Orient Express. Amongst the smaller operators, the "boutique" Camp Jabulani in Kapama is the clear winner for me food-wise. Well I don't go to safari camps just for their food, but it sure adds to the experience.

2.10) People - our Guide Tshabo was as skillful as he was hardworking. (Like Kwara, we had booked a private vehicle, but unlike Kwara, we had not booked any specific guide at Sandibe.). Once he knew we were dead keen, we were off nice and sharpish on the game drive the first afternoon. The dogs were more than an hour's drive away (no stops, and with some haste), and we did not want to get to where they had last been seen only to find they had already left on a hunt. The following morning, we left camp at 4:30am (sunrise was around 6am) so as to get there before they were up and about. After Tshabo found out that we had a liking for sunrise while we were well on our way and far away from the Lodge, we always left camp by 5am. We never actually saw Sandibe Lodge at dawn in our 5 nights spent there. One day, Tshabo organised an entire day out, 14.5 hours - we left at 5am and only got back to the Lodge at 7:30pm. Lunch was under some trees at a fantastic riverside spot (the Gomoti Channel) with Tshabo and Steve our tracker both taking on cooking and waiting duties. Aaron the Lodge Manager was always pleasant company, and there were two outside-of-camp dining events for all the guests which always feel special to us.

2.11) Miscellaneous - Laundry is included. It turned noticeably cooler by the time we got to Sandibe. On the last few morning game drives, I had multiple layers on, and used the blankets provided as well. Sunscreen is essential. Insects - as in Kwara. The vehicles in Sandibe have three rows of three seats each. This means significantly less leg room than the vehicles in Little Kwara.

 

 

A note about equipment

 

We travel with quite a bit of gear. Together they weigh more than 25kg. There are the lenses and 4 camera bodies, plus a pocket mirrorless camera. Then we have monopods, heads, gimbals and clamps to attach the big combos firmly to the railings in the vehicles. Chargers. Spare batteries. Notebook & multiple external hard drives. Spare cards. Card readers. They add up pretty quickly. I now buy an extra seat (or 20kg depending on whom you ask) after the kerfuffle I had with Wilderness Air for the Zim trip in October 2012 (the first time on Wild Air and the first time in all our safaris that we have been charged for being overweight), where we were 54kg compared to their allowed 40kg, and they relieved me of almost US$600 cash in Vic Falls to buy an extra seat on the Cessna (for safety reasons) for all the hops. Of course, that first leg out of Vic Falls only had the 2 of us as passengers.

 

With the roofs on in the vehicles, I soon reverted to my old method. Instead of clamping the big bazookas to the rails, we went back to seating the monopod legs on the vehicle seats and handholding the whole contraptions. Otherwise, we found that there were too many times that the big lenses could not be brought to bear.

 

With the off-roading and the types of animals we were tracking, we found that the 300mm was often the optimum lens (range). With dawn and dusk being so often the times of interesting activity, it is the f2.8 lenses and low-light capable camera bodies which do it for me.

 

I think I'll leave it here for now. I hope there was some useful information here for others who are thinking of the same area/same-time-of-year safaris.

Edited by johnkok
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michael-ibk

Well - this will be the first installment - the short version - and maybe even the only version.

 

NO way. Your pictures are fantastic, and your report way too informative to just leave it with that. I´m demanding a super-detailed, multi-page trip report with pics of about pretty much everything you saw. :)

 

Edited by michael-ibk
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Beautiful pictures as always @@johnkok. Your report brings back some wonderful memories of 14 months ago in the delta. I was probably in the same spot where you took the pictures of the two male lions, but we were lucky enough to see five of the magnificent seven together which I understand are now gone from the area. I am glad you liked Hobbs and the team at LK. We also bought an extra seat on the intra camp flights in the delta for the equipment and it was well worth it. Check out a lively debate on the subject in another thread! :blink: I too bought the "A Kitchen Safari" cookbook which is far more than just a cookbook and a good primer on all of @beyonds camps.

Thanks for the report.

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Geoff

A succinct and detailed report with some nice images. I'd definitely like to see some more.

 

@johnkok Would you return to the delta during March - April ?

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johnkok

johnkok Would you return to the delta during March - April ?

Geoff,

 

Our next trip there is more likely to be in May or September, although we would not mind going back in March-April. Then there is the attraction of different things like in November-December. I would only rule out October (they all call October the suicide month) for the time being.

 

John

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johnkok

Beautiful pictures as always @@johnkok. Your report brings back some wonderful memories of 14 months ago in the delta. I was probably in the same spot where you took the pictures of the two male lions, but we were lucky enough to see five of the magnificent seven together which I understand are now gone from the area. I am glad you liked Hobbs and the team at LK. We also bought an extra seat on the intra camp flights in the delta for the equipment and it was well worth it. Check out a lively debate on the subject in another thread! :blink: I too bought the "A Kitchen Safari" cookbook which is far more than just a cookbook and a good primer on all of @beyonds camps.

Thanks for the report.

Thanks.

 

We did manage to see 6 of the 7 together. They just never walked nor sat together in the same spot :-)

In fact, we saw 9 different males over our 5 night stay. And we never even saw a single lioness.

 

We've used andBeyond recipes at home over the years after returning from their camps and being n possession of some of their recipes which they had painstakingly written out in long form for us. When we saw the cookbook in their souvenir store, we just had to buy it.

 

John

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Geoff

 

johnkok Would you return to the delta during March - April ?

Geoff,

 

Our next trip there is more likely to be in May or September, although we would not mind going back in March-April. Then there is the attraction of different things like in November-December. I would only rule out October (they all call October the suicide month) for the time being.

 

John

@@johnkok,

 

Thanks for the reply. I've been to Bots many times and have been there in October on a number of ocassions. The heat does not bother me.

 

I asked the question as I have never been during the (so called) green season and as a keen photographer the thought of high grass is a concern.

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johnkok

@@johnkok,

 

Thanks for the reply. I've been to Bots many times and have been there in October on a number of ocassions. The heat does not bother me.

 

I asked the question as I have never been during the (so called) green season and as a keen photographer the thought of high grass is a concern.

Geoff

 

The heat outside is one thing (e.g. been to Hwange & Mana Pools in October; been to Borneo rainforest - at one place, shooting orangutan, some people looked at me like the crazy person I am as I was totally drenched in sweat; it was almost like I had just climbed back out of a swimming pool). The heat inside is another. At L.Kwara, there are not even fans. We happened to meet Sue Smart (the Kwando CEO) who dropped by. From my conversation with her, my sense of it is that they realise this is something they need to sort out. I think they'll be "upgrading" LK in the not too distant future. The current setup is that the generator set re-charges car batteries for each room which power the in-room electric lights. This infrastructure is totally inadequate for most other things.

 

At the Wilderness Safari lodges in Zim that we visited in October, their corporate "fluff' is that they are eco-friendly and so they have solar-panels for each room which powers a (woeful) floor standing electric fan. In the afternoon heat, the old expedient of draping ourselves with wet towels/cloths and letting the breeze from the fan blow directly at us helped. Of course, the fan is so small, the breeze does not even provide enough strength and coverage for two persons together. But there was at least that. :-)

 

As a side note, one of the rubber-rings around a large lens hood actually softened (and remains deformed) when I foolishly left the lens on a seat (in the Lounge area) when it was in the shade, but which eventually came under direct sunlight. Fortunately there was not more damage done when someone from the Lodge spotted this and covered it up with a blanket/cloth.

 

As you can see from the strolling lion shot, the length of the grass beside the road there is fairly indicative of grass height in those plain-like areas. You will often have to "battle" those grass-in-face issues. Being in a private vehicle can help, as we can shift position along the row (my wife and I take a row each) to try and see if the slightly different POV removes the pesky obstruction. But quite often, we do not even realise it as those intermediate-distance grass do not show up obviously in the daylight on the camera LCD - and that's even if we have the time to chimp. On the wild dog shot, you can see that its right rear leg is partially obscured in this manner. Not that there would have been anything we could have done about it. The dog was playing with its mates, and we could have missed this head-on action shot if that tall blade of grass to the left had been front and centre and if wind had lifted it vertical. The dog's face could well have been blurred/obscured like its rear leg was.

 

Of course, there is also the other side of the coin. In Phinda in April last year, the grass was tall enough that once a cheetah lies down, it is totally invisible. We drove around and around vast blocks quite a few times. Even when they pop their heads up for a look around, they are not so obvious. However, I have some of my favourite cheetah shots from that safari because those cheetah down there kept on climbing up trees to look around.

(I've posted one here http://safaritalk.net/topic/4709-show-us-your-cheetah-pictures/page-9 and also on my flickr site if you want to have a look).

 

Just my two bits

 

John

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Alex The Lion

@@johnkok

 

Thanks for the TR. Personally I am not a fan of April/May for many of the reasons listed, though it looked as if you managed to capture so good images still.

 

btw, October is not that hot....

 

@@Geoff

 

If you are keen on the green season, late November/early December is probably the best time to visit.

 

The grasses are still short, though the bush has started to turn a vibrant green. It looks a well kept lawn in places. If rainfall has not been substantial, game will also not be that dispersed.

 

By April, many of the migratory birds have also left, which is often a draw of the rainy season.

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madaboutcheetah

Lovely report, @@johnkok sounds a super trip!!!

 

Look forward to more images over time.

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johnkok
I'll continue with a few words about Little Kwara's guides.
Many SafariTalkers seemed to think very highly of Hobbs. So for this safari, we asked and paid an extra fee for the privilege of having Hobbs as our guide. As it turned out, Hobbs had to delay his holiday to accommodate our booking. It's a good thing for us we did make that request or we would have missed Hobbs entirely. There were many occasions where he applied his knowledge of animal behaviour while tracking down the big cats in particular, and when driving would explain the process while he was doing so. The instance that demonstrates what I mean is that first time Hobbs and Chester tracked down the coalition of 3 cheetahs for us, but I'll leave that story for another time. I'm glad we took the recommendation to have Hobbs guide us.
As Hobbs warmed to us, we chatted about many things. I told him about his many fans on SafariTalk and about SafariTalk itself of course. When he went off for his holiday, he dropped in on my flickr site and also dropped us a line. I expect this will not be the last time we meet Hobbs - we certainly hope this is so.
Here's Hobbs and Chester after sundowners on the boat excursion. I asked them to pose for a holiday snap (for us pesky tourists) and they obliged. As you can see, Chester too has sartorially eloquent headgear. Hobbs bought that for him. These two amigos are unmistakable when dressed for the "office".
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Another guide we had good times laughing and chatting with was Dutch. He is very expressive when he tells his tales. If you meet him, you'll have to ask him to tell you his story about his father and the snake. He had us in stitches. And he has more. It also turned out his good friend Tshabo was the head guide at Sandibe where we were headed to next. And his cousin was one of Sandibe's camp managers. In the event, his cousin was on holiday, but we got Tshabo as our guide. A happy coincidence as Tshabo turned out to be yet another treasure. But I'll leave that story too for another time.
One morning we stopped for coffee beside a pan which was swarming with barn swallows continually swooping down to the surface. Jill and I both had some fun trying to shoot these supersonic fliers. We invited Hobbs and Chester to have a go with our toys as well. I can report that they were grinning from ear to ear as they had a go. Shutters going at 10 frames a second do make very satisfying sounds for a lot of us it seems.
When we spotted an egret coming in to land, we yelled encouragement at Chester to "Get it! Get it!" and he did.
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Here's Chester coming back from play-time.
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And here's an example of the barn swallows that they "tracked".
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As for Little Kwara Camp, it is rather basic. This is what it looks like in broad daylight looking from the communal dining area towards the lounge area in the background. Beyond that is a small pool which some guests used in the heat of the afternoon.
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On other days, the baboons liked the pool too.
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Of course, they do tear the place up occasionally. And I mean that literally. As you can see here, this one is tearing up the roof of our tent. It took some doing to persuade it to cease and desist.
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Other residents are less of a nuisance.
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When we left Little Kwara, so did Hobbs and Lizzie. Hobbs was getting 2 weeks off while Lizzie, who had worked for three whole months without a break being nice to us guests, was going home for a well-earned 3 week break. Chester drew driving duty for the airstrip giraffe watch and to drive the vehicle back to camp.

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Edited by johnkok
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twaffle

I liked the way you presented the first installment, very informative and interesting. Love the photos and the descriptions so I hope you have the energy to indulge us all some more with stories and photos.

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johnkok

I liked the way you presented the first installment, very informative and interesting. Love the photos and the descriptions so I hope you have the energy to indulge us all some more with stories and photos.

You're much too kind but thanks all the same. I take inspiration from your stories and photos on ST actually, so a double thank you.

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madaboutcheetah

Omg!!!! You are making me home sick!!!! Wonderful narration and images.

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"The instance that demonstrates what I mean is that first time Hobbs and Chester tracked down the coalition of 3 cheetahs for us, but I'll leave that story for another time. "

That time is NOW. We want more!

Great stuff, both the descriptions and of course the pictures.

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madaboutcheetah

PS: Nice to see Lizzie - haven't seen her in a bit. She's been threatening retirement the last time we had a brief facebook chat.

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Atravelynn

Many get photos of bee eaters, but you got it going after the bee!

 

Your report is very informative. You even provided info on a topic that is not the subject of your report--Phinda in April.

 

It appears you had little rain or cloudy skies. Was there talk about the weather and if it was typical or unusual?

 

Just wondering if the AndBeyond cookbook you bought has their recipe for chocolate salami?

 

You mention the long grass and the wild dog shot. I had to go back and look again. I had focused on the bounding front legs that were clearly out of the grass.

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johnkok

It appears you had little rain or cloudy skies. Was there talk about the weather and if it was typical or unusual?

 

Just wondering if the AndBeyond cookbook you bought has their recipe for chocolate salami?

Thanks for reading and your feedback. Much appreciated.

 

As for the weather, we did pack with some rain in mind. We were too optimistic for Phinda and only had 2 pairs of pants each. There was an un-seasonal hail and thunderstorm and due to our gluttony for punishment (we wanted to stay with a pride of lions and cubs as they woke and started off), we got pretty wet. The other pair of pants was not back from the laundry and the wet one I was wearing was what I had to keep wearing through dinner. Three pairs this time :-) Also brought rain covers for the equipment.

 

As it turned out, there was no rain through all the 10 nights we were there. The impression I have is that this was a little unusual. There was only one drive that I can recall where we thought it might have started to rain a bit, but it didn't. Luck of the draw.

 

As for chocolate salami, I have to admit I try to stay away from sweets so I haven't noticed.

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Game Warden

I think I'll leave it here for now.

That's like offering someone a dribble of a fantastic vintage red wine, only to hide the bottle away again...

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Atravelynn

Those clear skies and nice light are reflected (ha ha) in your fine photography. How lucky you were. But it appears you paid your dues in Phinda.

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johnkok

Those clear skies and nice light are reflected (ha ha) in your fine photography. How lucky you were. But it appears you paid your dues in Phinda.

Thanks for the praise about the pix.

 

Every time I sit for hours waiting for cats or dogs to get going and they don't, I think of it as paying my dues. Every time we drive fruitlessly around and around, looking for something to be doing anything apart from just standing there and chewing, I think of it as paying my dues. And then sometimes, for some magical moments, my dues pay off :-)

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@@johnkok

You just stated in the post above exactly what goes through my mind when after driving around and seeing little the guide repeats its "quiet" today. Paying ones dues. However patience is the key to success- sitting and waiting at one likely spot while a predator sleeps or a waterhole works out very well more often than not.

Great pictures

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madaboutcheetah

Trust me, it's better to have a quiet game drive with an extraordinary guide who tries very hard compared to a guide who's all talk and close to 0 on effort!!! Glad you had a great time with Hobbs .......

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johnkok

Been having some trouble on the next installment. The big word for it procrastination. The small word is laziness. But I'm just doing what lions do best - laze around all day - he wails :-)

 

But I have been responding to some others in ST and that brought up something else that stuck with me about Hobbs.

 

I think Hobbs takes his work extremely seriously. He's worked 14 years with Kwando Safaris, and Sue Smart, the CEO, told me she had known Hobbs from when he started as a tracker.

 

I've commented elsewhere that Hobbs said to us one time that he felt the 3 cheetah brothers were behaving differently - more skittishly around the vehicles. His thought was that they had recently seen people emerge on foot from vehicles. His tone was a bit dark when he said that. And I knew he was going to have words with his colleagues back at camp. Hobbs himself always made sure that whenever Chester had to get out of the front and into the vehicle, we were behind some cover and out of sight of the animals.

 

Another time, we were chatting together with Hobbs and other guides at the camp. There was some talk of tracking activity - something we were part of a few times with Hobbs and Chester, and which almost always ended with success. One guide mentioned leopard tracks on the road, and I heard Hobbs softly responding that the other guide had driven over fresh tracks himself. It sounded like gentle chiding - you did not see it, and you then also ruined it for others - take more care next time.

 

The man is a professional, and takes his work seriously.

 

p.s. no Chocolate Salami recipe in the andBeyond cookbook ;-)

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madaboutcheetah

If you've seen the first series of "Mad Mike and Mark" filmed in Kwando (Sorry, I know the show is totally lame and from a really long time ago - 2001/2002 it was filmed. Yet, to be honest that's how I even knew Kwando from before my participation on chat forums online) - there is a clip in one of the episodes with Hobbs tracking and following a puff adder that was fighting a spitting cobra.

 

Interesting note on the 3 cheetah brothers. After all, a lot of tracking is done on foot and at times they do see people on the ground - quickly relax usually after a few minutes.

 

Talking of Leopard tracking, the last time I was there at LK - he saw tracks in camp during morning tea and started tracking right from the lounge of LK. He got under the deck etc etc., to see where the tracks were headed ...... too funny. We had an extra cup of coffee that day.

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