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BRACQUENE

Introduction 

 

When I prepare a safari trip I will always look for remoteness and at the same time it has obviously been in the back of my mind to experience a personalized safari from a top safari guide , where all the attention would be concentrated on Anne , Willem and myself .

 

Most of the time this remains a dream or comes at a very high price out of my league but this year in the scenic Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe it became surprisingly reality !

In the 10 days of safari we were on our own for almost 9 days with the exception of the company of a lovely couple from Harare that joined us for a walk and a few drives in Kavinga Safari Camp .

The first seven nights ( 5 at Little Vundu on the floodline and 2 camping in the wild Chitake Springs area ) Nick Murray , his wife and kids took care of us like we were part of the family ( an unforgeatable experience ) and you guessed of course  that with Nick we had an exceptional guide bearing in mind he hosted Sir David Attenborough for seven nights preparing the 2018 Dynasties TV Series of the Wild Dogs ( but more about that later) .

 

It is true this was only possible because of the present Covid-19 pandemic and measures and the notable absence of visitors from Europe and the UK in particular  ; generally we prefer largely to meet new people because it is on safari we met our good friends Judy and Ian from London in 2014 in the South Luangwa and again in Ruaha in 2017 and since joining this forum I would love to meet some of the safaritalkers in one of our future trips.

 

As an appetizer here are some pictures to give you all an idea of what is to come ; a day by day report will follow soon of course .

 

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Introduction  :    When I prepare a safari trip I will always look for remoteness and at the same time it has obviously been in the back of my mind to experience a personalized safari from a

IV . A memorable morning at the den :   It was a crisp winter morning , that 7 th of July , and we left before sunrise because at breakfast Nick insisted we should arrive at the latest at 7.

II . The preparation , the anxious anticipation and finally taking off :   Before Covid- 19 our safari planning started always more than a year before travelling and was finalized 10 to 12 m

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Atdahl

What awesome teaser photos!  I am looking forward to this.

 

Alan

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wilddog

so wonderful you made it and it looks like Mana delivered in spades. really looking forward to the rest of the report @BRACQUENE 

 

Nick is an exceptional guide whom I met at Vundu (main) some years ago in the days of Tait (the wilddog, not his daughter). A familiar figure for 'Manatics' . Perhaps you have become a Manatic too now you have visited?

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mtanenbaum

Can't wait to read the details of your report! Were you able to get a better price due to the pandemic? It doesn't seem like any of the safari camps are really doing any discounting....maybe the private guides are a different story?

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michael-ibk

Yeah, a Mana Pools trip report, awesome. Happy you hear you had a great time there despite everything, and can't wait to see more. Great introductory pictures. 

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dlo

Welcome back @BRACQUENE. Good to see you had a trip and even better that it was a good trip! For some reason I thought you were in Luangwa so I'm glad to see that it was Mana pools. 

I've pretty much decided to make it my next safari so I will certainly be watching this thread closely. If I can become a little less lazy I will start a topic on Mana pools and hopefully yourself and some of the experts here can help me out on some questions I have.

Now bring on the next part!

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madaboutcheetah

Welcome back ..... Would love to hear more!!!  Dog dens and everything sounds like a great getaway ........ I'd be keen to hear more about Kavinga as it's close to that Chitake area that i absolutely loved.

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BRACQUENE

Thanks for the many reactions and I can see you all have "Great Expectations " for this upcoming trip report but be aware that I am not the natural storyteller Dickens was and haven't even been down under yet like Pip did   :lol: but I will do my best whilst taking my time and @Atdahl try to equal the teaser photos later on ; I remember @wilddogthat you advised me not to limit myself to the floodline which at first wasn't possible because it was a Zambia / Zimbabwe combined safari but the Covid policy of Zambia  towards Belgium and the UAE ban of passengers having been to Zambia 14 days prior to their arrival changed everything only three weeks before my departure and yes you can count me from now onwards as a member of the Manatics and above all  I realise now why so many prior visitors consider the locals " as probably the friendliest people they've met anywhere in the world !

As for the cost of the safari organised by Busanga Safaris @mtanenbaumthe original safari was more expensive because it was complicated to go from the Lower Zambezi to Mana as crossing the Zambezi River with a boat is prohibited of course ;) and apart from that we had another reduction because we stayed 7 nights in the two Bushlife Safari Camps and got a free night but we were just lucky that this became such an intimate experience and an almost complete  private one at the same time .

Last year @michael-ibk I must admit I was a bit jealous reading your great Zambian report whilst we all were in lockdown and even had to cancel our trip to France , but this was indeed the safari of a lifetime for us .

I can understand  @dlothat you thought that we were in the Luangwa ( North and South) because that was the planning but we moved that one to 2022 : as for a topic on Mana Pools I was also thinking about that like my ongoing on the Kafue but we could work together and by the way in the Harare airport bookshop I bought the latest 2020 edition of Jan Teede's " A Field Guide to Mana Pools National Park " 614 pages of valuable information !

You will get as much information as possible about Kavinga @madaboutcheetah, a big contrast to the very wild experience at Chitake but a must also in my opinion and I let you guess which of the teaser photos have been taken on location :D

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ElenaH

WOW! @BRACQUENE, I am very jealous and happy that you were able to visit Mana! We are just changing our plans from Mana to Botswana because we are normally crossing the border by car and now it is not possible. Where did you fly? To Harare or Vic Falls? 

Mana is stunning. especially its scenic views... like pictures from the Bible, a window into paradise. I hope, we will see a few pictures from you  ;-)

I was just able to get to finalists of Meyer-Görlitz Photocontest with a picture of Mana Pools shoot with an almost 100-year old lense Trioplan 100/2.8. Well.. perhaps, nobody comes to the idea to photgraph wildlife with old glass. But Mana delivers. And with any photographic gear you will get your shots ;-) I am looking forward to yours!!

 

@mtanenbaum,  the problem with price is that lodges/camps have contracts with tour-operators or platforms like booking.com. For example, booking.com must guarantee the lowest price. Many camps cannot publish other (discounting) price otherwise they violate some rules (that is what I think). But if you come as a walk-in tourist and stay with cash by the door it could be a different story. Then there is no provision between the lodge and a tour-operator or some platform anymore. You can take a risk. Last year in Zambia there were resident-prices for all people in some camps.  

 

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BRACQUENE

Thanks a lot @Elena Hanakovafor your reaction and sorry to hear you can't reach Mana by car ; Botswana is not bad either as we heard from a company of Belgians on our flight back who just came from there ; our trip started and ended in Harare as you will see : I am merely an amateur photographer and used for the first time on this safari the Sony RX 10 IV with a great  ZEISS® Vario-Sonnar® T*-zoomlens 24-600 mm f/2.4-4.0 after seeing the results @Atravelynngot with that camera in her Kafue trip in 2019 : I started my trip with met old Fuji X S1 that gets a bit further at 625 mm and the new one but after a few days I just continued with the Sony because it is a dream to use not in the least for birds at long range 

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AfricIan

Welcome back @BRACQUENE, I can tell this is going to be good :).

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pedro maia

Looking forward for more after those teaser shots, Hercules ;).

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BRACQUENE

@AfricIan@pedro maia

Thanks and I will try to fulfill your expectations starting tomorrow because today it is the 21 of July our national holiday and traditionally I will go eating out with Anne , my sons and my mother who is nearly 89 but still drives her car :)

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Whyone?

Well done for making it to Mana - I am both impressed and envious in equal measure.

 

I am especially intrigued by your Duiker photo's  - not a Mana location I can readily put my finger on!

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Bush dog

Great trip guided by a legend, you must have made a lot of jealous people.

What were the formalities to enter Zimbabwe as well as those for your return home?  I imagine that, during all flights, wearing a mask is mandatory.  Wasn't that too trying?

Can I allow myself a small remark on your photos.  You should improve your framing.  Indeed, on some the ends of the legs or ears are not visible.  Anyway, well done!

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Soukous
On 7/20/2021 at 10:52 AM, BRACQUENE said:

I am merely an amateur photographer and used for the first time on this safari the Sony RX 10 IV with a great  ZEISS® Vario-Sonnar® T*-zoom lens 24-600 mm f/2.4-4.0

 

That really is a great camera for safari. I still lug around many kilos of cameras and lenses simply because I enjoy using them and seem to get better results than I do with my Sony RX10 - although that could just be my imagination.

I still always take it with me though, because if I am doing walking there is nothing better.

 

So you've set the bar high senor.

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BRACQUENE

I can understand @Whyone?that you are envious but I am sure you will be traveling soon again ; as for the klipspringer even I didn’t expect that sort of close encounter around … Kavinga Camp ; 

We realize we were extremely lucky with Nick for us alone @Bush dogbut for us at least traveling wearing a mask for two days even when sleeping was well worth it ; in the airports the security was very tight and we needed for Zimbabwe a negative  PCR test 48 hours old at the most but no vaccination ( more about that later) but when we came back to Belgium needing a Passenger Locator Form there was no control at all not even of our passport !! 
As for the gear thank you and @Soukousfor the appreciated comments ; this is indeed a very good camera for safari that feels good in the hand ( metal no plastic ) ; as I have been shooting multiple frames most  the time I was perhaps to quick to show some photos and rightly the framing could be better but that can be arranged in my TR I hope ;)

 

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Athene

I am glad you made it to Mana Pools despite all the regulations and requirements. I like your introductory pictures. Looking forward to your report and more pictures @BRACQUENE

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BRACQUENE

Thanks @Atheneand glad you liked them ; starting the preparation of the TR today ;)

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BRACQUENE

II . The preparation , the anxious anticipation and finally taking off :

 

Before Covid- 19 our safari planning started always more than a year before travelling and was finalized 10 to 12 months before leaving : even then we struggled sometimes to have the camps we wanted as we always choose September or October ( high season) !

This year it was totally different and believe it or not the final program was decided on Monday the 14 th of June , less than three weeks before departure , when walking through Dilbeek and the beautiful southern part of Brussels Tony from Busanga Safaris send me a message to propose a final choice of Camps : the main Vundu Camp for two nights extra on top of the five nights Little Vundu or the wild Chitake Springs mobile Camp instead ? completed as agreed already with three nights at Kavinga Camp . 

 

I must confess I hesitated for a while as I am nearly 65 and although I largely prefer bushcamps to luxury ones , real camping even for only two nights was something I didn’t do since I was in my twenties but God I am so happy to have choosen Chitake especially with a guide in the league of Nick Murray .

Anne and Willem agreed immediately and so after some messages sent also to rearrange the plains with Sky Travel   , everything was settled but the uncertainty remained and like some people here on safaritalk have mentioned you’re only gone when the doors of the airplane close behind you ;

So the next weeks I was constantly checking the news and a few days after our decision the Belgian government in all his wisdom ( ? ) put 27 countries on a red or black list ; so when coming back from those we were supposed to go 10 days into quarantine : Botswana , South Africa, Namibia , Uganda, Mozambique  and … Zimbabwe were amongst them but not , can you believe it  Zambia , Tanzania , Kenya and Malawi .

 

Taking into consideration that Zambia considered Belgium to be dark red ( ! ) whilst figures in my country were better then ever just before we left and Zimbabwe was , blessed be they forever,  not following the same example as their close neighbour , we decided that same night after a few glasses of dark red South African wine to go on safari even if we would face a quarantine on our return ( at home mind you and not in an hotel ).

 

The occasion was indeed too special to let go : Our 30th wedding anniversary , my 65 th birthday and imminent retirement is not a moment you want to spend at home but in the bush , if you know what I mean;) .

 

So on the 4th of July we were all set and took a taxi to Zaventem , the Brussels Airport , and waited in the lounge for the departure at 18.15

 

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Like I already posted elsewhere we saw our Lufthansa LH 1017  flight arriving in front of us

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We made it safely to Frankfurt and borded then for our  Boeing 747-8 Lufthansa LH 572 night flight to Tambo Int Airport Johannesburg

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We had never in our life been in business but for this special occasion and because of corana and our safety we decided to do so and noticed the plane was far from full ; after a dinner with a corn-fed poularde carpaccio with spicy papaya and parmesan and salmon steak with honey and pepper glaze , wild broccoli and risolée patatoes and a few glasses of an excellent Sicilian wine we tried to get some sleep.

There was quite a bit of turbulence during the night hours when flying over Central Africa but otherwise the flight went smoothly.

 

In the early morning hours we flew over the Zambezi and arrived safely in South Africa ; before we made it to the gate for our  SA Airlink 4Z 104 flight to Harare the security measures were extremely strict and I remember having to show at least four times the negative PCR test !

Worse when getting the bording pass for the Airlink flight the lady behind the desk looked at the date and said with not much compassion: you might be quarantined in Harare because your test is older than 48 hours  ; confusion all over because when do those 48 hours start : when the test is done, when you get the result or when you take your first flight ?

According to Tony it was the latter but cold sweat started to break out with me anyway thinking about an unrated or in the best scenario a one star hotel in Harare instead of the 4 star Highlands House where we were supposed to spend the first and last night ; the guy from Harare who was sitting next to me in the airplane to Robert Mugabe International Airport , came back from Natal was very friendly but couldn’t take away my worries and it was with an uncertain heart I left the plane:( .

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And ascended the steps on our way to the verdict :

 

Our temperature was controlled and then we saw two tables with a young man on the left one and a middle-aged woman on the right one ; for some reasons I can’t explain we went instinctively to the lady who asked us for our PCR test and at the same time where we came from.

If she was aware of that famous red list of 27 countries , it could be a disaster to mention Belgium but we had no choice and … amazingly and to our astonishment she started to smile and immediately talked about football , named Lukaku and Hazard and a former Zimbabwean player that went to Belgium in the 1980’s : the only one I know by the way is the midfielder Marvelous Nakamba from Hwange who played a few years for Bruges before going to Aston Villa.

 

She looked at our test and the date , I suppose , but apart from wishing us a pleasant stay didn’t ask anything else : we went to the passport control , payed our visa and collected our luggage ( always an exciting moment since we arrived in Lusaka without any in 2014 ).

 

Standing in the bright sunshine outside the sliding doors a man showed us a cardboard plate with Peter , Anne and Willem on it  and we suddenly realised we arrived at the start of our journey :rolleyes:

 

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ForWildlife

Good stories :) Looking forward to the rest! Must have been one of the last passenger 747's which is still operational too?

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AfricIan

Great start @BRACQUENE, trips these days are so much more stressful aren’t they :wacko:

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JayRon

Really looking forward to the next chapter @BRACQUENEMana Pools is one of the few places I haven´t visited in southern africa, but I know it is a special place...

 

And these different travel restrictions is so confusing, it seems that Belgium and Denmark are the same... All of Southern Africa is red, but not Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. I  And incredibly there was no restrictions on travelling to Rwanda :o I sometimes wonder who makes these decisions. 

And glad you had no problem with immigration at Zimbabwe, I would have been so nervous on the plane. You never know if you bump into a very unfriendly official.....

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Athene

I think the restrictions in Europe are primarily about the beta variant. It is still in southern Africa although the delta variant is taking over now @JayRon

 

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BRACQUENE

@AfricIan@JayRon@Athene 

Because the travel restrictions are so different from country to country and the rules change all the time it was and still is confusing but in the end from our point of view early July was the month to go because you never know what the fall will bring !?

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