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Go to Botswana, see - Millipedes!


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A copy of the report that I posted on the other place. The millipedes were everywhere, a green season treat - big ones, little ones, black legs, yellow legs.


This is my report of our trip to Botswana, a Wilderness Safaris package, the Green Desert Expedition, 4 nights mobile camping in the Kalahari Game reserve, and two nights at Xigera, and we added 2 nights at Kwando Lebala and a night at Victoria Falls, all booked through Eyes on Africa. We are a family of 7, me, my DH, and 3 DS's, ages 18 and 13 year old twins, and my sister and her 17 year old DS. My sister and I lived in Uganda, in Kampala, in the 60's and traveled extensively in East Africa in the late 60's/early 70's. This was my first time back (except Egypt last year), and my first time in southern Africa. I will talk briefly about each day, with comments at the end. We are interested in all kinds of things, my background is in botany and environmental science, and we went knowing that the game viewing may not be great – and not knowing what to expect. The two older boys did not want to go at all – leave their girlfriends over the Christmas break? The trip was made when I heard my nephew whisper, “That's tight!” when we saw our first (of many) lion, up close and personal. We all loved every minute of the trip! I will post photos soon.


12/21 – We arrive J'burg, stayed at Metcourt Laurel – like a Holiday Inn, but with way, way more room – huge rooms, wide halls. Very nice for what it was. Decent dinner in food court in enclosed mall at Emperor's Palace complex. For me, the trip starts the minute I walk out the door and I am getting old and crotchety. So, we splurged, and went business – I had a Y ticket, upgraded with miles, and the rest of the family were full fare. And, I would not do it any other way. Flew Delta (SAA too expensive) IAD - ATL – JNB.



12/22 - Fly Maun - xfer Motsensela Tree Lodge – Lodge was beautiful. Storky wandering around – a stork that had arrived from Germany 6 weeks ago, too exhausted to fly anymore. Wakened by huge francolin party. Jack and Eve were wonderful hosts, we stayed up late talking, and saw a pretty genet peeping out of the tree sheltering us. This was a great way to ease into Africa and the bush. The kids loved, loved it – it's different, traveling with kids, a slower pace works better. We don't need to do that much; they were happy just hanging out at the pool. That night we met Anderson (Andy) Sekgwa, our new best friend and guide, who put up with us for the next week – his patience with our family squabbles and questions (I ask endless questions) was never ending.



12/23 - xfer to camping at Deception Valley – CKGR – a long drive, but we couldn't afford air transfers everywhere – the Green Desert trip was pretty reasonably priced. It was great to see the Boteti River flowing, and I preferred seeing some homes, and farms, and folks out doing their thing. We arrived in the late p.m. after a game drive. We saw lions, a pride that we saw almost every day thereafter, 1 big, older male, 1 younger male, a female and her daughter right away, with a kill, a springbok that they were saving for later, when it would be cooler. Our campsite was incredible, nice tents with cots, each one with a short drop loo out the back, and two bucket showers, and a dining tent/pavilion. It was perfect, and we met Daniel, the camp manager, Rob, staff, and Obonye (we called her Obi) the excellent, amazing chef. The meals she made over an open fire, everything including 1,000 litres of water trucked in on a truck, were incredible and delicious and varied. They all worked unbelievably hard for us. We spent the time in the CKGR in a Toyota land cruiser, with a top – I know many of you don't like the top, but we really needed it, for the shade. Andy said he preferred land cruisers for the long drives.



12/24 - camping at Deception Valley – CKGR – cool, slightly drizzly, cloudy. Today, we saw 2 honey badgers, tops on my list, and our lions, the females licking moisture off each other. We saw 2 cheetah brothers that we also saw frequently, 1 hurt – couldn't see if his leg/shoulder was broken, or mauled. We also saw a sick lion pride – they looked thin to us, and our guide scrutinized them and said they did not look healthy. He reported both the pride and the hurt cheetah to the wildlife guys, who, he said, would follow up. I found it interesting that they seem to do some management – we discussed how in the states, we leave the animals alone, but here, since tourism is such a huge resource, they do try to help things along. The wildlife guys later came to our camp looking for updates since they had searched for both the pride and the cheetah and couldn't find them. We also saw lots of baby springbok pronking, boy, is that cute when they jump straight up in the air! and oryx. No zebra because of the vet fence. We also saw our pride, but without the young male – we figured that the older male had kicked him out. Sucks to be a sub-adult male in Africa!



12/25 - Transfer camping spots to Letiahau – drove all day. This could have been arranged better, but I don't know how – we did like changing camping sites, and the places next on the itinerary were closer to Letiahau. We drove all day to give Daniel, Rob and Obonye time to break down one camp and set it up at the second place. Day hot & sunny. We saw giraffes, hare, lions with cubs – 1 male with scarred back and a female and two cubs, and a pride of 5 young male lions, and the new Kwando camp at Tau Pan in the distance. That looks like a wonderful location – up on a hill with great views of the valley. We exchanged info with other folks – Andy kept the radio on the WS channel, not that there was much traffic, but we chatted with all who wanted to chat with us. I think we saw much more than anyone without a guide. Beautifully fragrant acacia at lunch – 1.5” white panicle.



12/26 - camping at Letiahau – CKGR. I was sick in am and stayed in camp, they saw a cheetah chased by an oryx, and our pride at the water-hole – this was interesting: our pride came to the Letiahau water-hole chasing the young male out of their territory and the young female was very visibly nervous of the open water. She may not have seen any before. She paced, and paced, growling and hissing at the water. She finally shouldered her mother aside and stood in the exact same spot to drink. She continued hissing at the water, and the strange lion in the water (her reflection), and finally swatted at the lion, causing everyone in the truck to jump, even our guide! Also, saw another pride of lions in Piper Pan and a baby wildebeest trying to nurse in the p.m. Andy said that we really had amazing luck with our lion sightings, all the big, black maned Kalahari lions. It got to the point where we said, “Oh, yawn, another lion?”


12/27 - drive & plane transfer to XIGERA - Okavango Delta – back to Maun, same long drive, but very nice tea next to Boteti river. What a beautiful sight – apparently when the river started to flow the whole village there came out to see – what a party! Then rest and showers at WS HQ in Maun and light air (Cessna Caravan, what we had for all light air xfers). Big black mamba on the road – very cool!


What a difference Xigera was! Say what you want about WS, this was a well put together and thought out trip. We went from semi desert to water, camping to luxury lodge, and it was wonderful. We arrived, stashed the bags and went for a mokoro ride. I thought it was great, but I can look at plants all day – gorgeous water lilies. We did not see much, except for a juvenile Pel's fishing owl,


12/28 - XIGERA - Okavango Delta. Cloudy in am. Saw a beautiful leopard in the morning that we followed for a while. She was obviously hunting something. Also, a gorgeous flame lily. In the afternoon, we took a speedboat out for a WILD ride, and went to a swimming hole. This was beyond wonderful. The water was incredibly clean, and a perfect temperature. We swam, and drifted, and talked with the guides – by now we had 2, Andy who was assigned to us for the whole trip, and Matt, incredibly knowledgeable, a resident Xigera guide who grew up in the area. It was a dream. Saw hippo, crocs, and a mature Pel's on the way and a mole rat on the drive back! This was very cool – Andy and Matt were also pleased, although Matt was a little concerned since their belief is seeing a mole rat is a bad omen. We watched him dig for a while – Andy said this was the first one he had seen since being in guide school back in the 80's. He said his pictures did not come out well, so maybe that was his bad luck.


12/29 - Scheduled light aircraft transfer to KWANDO LEBALA CAMP. A short mokoro ride in the am, where we saw more hippo. I love the way they waggle their ears!


We arrived at Lebala and were picked up by Charles – I was in awe - “you are famous” I told him, and he laughed. After the WS packaging Lebala was initially underwhelming – see my comments later. We had lunch and a siesta, and then went out with Hector, and Simon, our guide and tracker. There were two hippo carcasses at Lebala, and we checked them out – not too much going on – we stayed upwind. We spent quite a bit of time watching a group of marabou storks having a feeding frenzy – they were at a small pond full of frogs and they kept eating and eating them - even some turtles, which they had a little trouble choking down. That is one ugly bird – the boys got the giggles looking at the sacs under their beaks – there was quite a bit of speculation as to what the sacs looked like, and what they were for. On the way back, Simon saw a chameleon! At 50 feet, in the dark! Unbelievable! Very cool, with his eyes moving all around – the chameleon, although Simon's eyes were moving as well...


12/30 - LEBALA – morning – saw two beautiful lionesses, smaller than the Kalahari lions, and lighter. Hippos. We came back early, sightings not great, and the kids needed a break. Hector was wonderful – he tried so hard, and kept apologizing for the lack of game. We said that we knew it wasn't his fault, the grass was high, green and beautiful. Afternoon – we went back to the hippo carcass and it was mostly gone – very cool and gross (gross is good in our house). Many marabou stork, vultures, and our first hyenas – a big hit. We were there for a while, watching the hyena interactions as they came and went. All boys were very interested in the female hyena genitalia – almost as good as the bright blue parts on the male vervet, which had them really flabbergasted. Our first elephant, as well.


12/31 - Scheduled light aircraft transfer to Victoria Falls - stay Ilala Lodge – but first – DOGS! Word came in late the previous afternoon that the Selinda pack had come in from next door, so, first thing we all (us and two other groups) went out – Hector, Thabo and Osi all spread out going in different directions to find them. Soon, the radio crackled, Hector turned around, and said “Buckle your seat belts, we're off!” And we were! I kept my eyes closed half the time and Hector had a huge grin – he is a hunter. What a ride! Pretty soon, there they were – 7 beautiful wild dogs, sans puppies We followed them all morning, or at least till we had to go catch our flight out.


We loved Lebala, and Hector was great – Phoebe and all the staff were so nice to us – we were sorry to go, but it was time for the next adventure – Victoria Falls. We flew Lebala – Kasane, to go through customs, then Kasane - Vic Falls. The high point of the trip for my middle son was taking the wheel on the flight. I was dozing, looked up, and OMIGOSH – he was flying the plane! For about 15 minutes. Then, it was time to begin our descent, so he handed the controls back.


We were met at Vic Falls airport – WS took good care of us all the way through the trip - and taken to Ilala Lodge, the next hotel.


We landed in Zimbabwe Vic falls Airport, and almost immediately noticed a difference – it was hot, and humid – my guess is, judging from plants and how the temps felt, that we went from sub tropical to tropical. There were cycads everywhere, and other plants that I recognized. Visa was $30 for anyone 18 years and up. I know that counts many of you out. We were done and out quickly, the folks at the airport were very pleasant and efficient. Let me tell you, I was nervous – I did not know what to expect, and I have traveled a fair amount over the years. Everything was on paper – no computers. A WS rep picked us up and took us to the hotel. We chatted on the way in, and he said tourism is way down, by half about. We all agreed that what is going on is not good, but I was reluctant to go any further since I didn't want to get him, or us, in trouble. Curio shops, a blanket spread on the ground, were frequent on the way in from the airport. The country felt poorer, although we were so cocooned in Botswana, that I can't really compare. But, that was my gut feeling.


At this point in the trip, we were very, very concerned about finances. We had little cash left – I had meant to leave our tips to the general staff at Xigera and Lebala on the credit card, but didn't see how to do it when we were leaving, so I didn't. The tips for our guides we put in envelopes with a thank you note that we all signed. The wad of cash that I had in my purse was something at the beginning of the trip, since we were a group of 5 (my sister's cash was separate, although we tipped jointly). Anyway, it was very seriously depleted at the end, which normally wouldn't be a problem, except that you can't use credit cards anywhere in Zimbabwe, and you can't go to the ATM – they only dispense Zim $ and it is illegal for foreigners to own them. The hotel was paid for, as were all activities and transfers, but we still needed to eat. It all worked out fine in the end, especially when we figured out that breakfast was included.


Off to the activities – I had polled the kids about what they wanted to do before we left, and all activities were arranged and paid for before leaving the US. The oldest kid was scheduled for the world's second highest bungee jump that afternoon. Here's some info: http://www.victoriafalls-guide.net/bungee-jumping.html. He went with Shearwater. We walked to the bridge between Zimbabwe and Zambia, where the jump takes place, and if we could have afforded a taxi, we definitely would have taken one. The touts were everywhere, although when we smiled and said no, thanks, they left us alone. Not nearly as persistent as Egypt, although there, they've had 4,000 years of experience separating tourists from their money. To get to the bungee jump, we had to exit Zimbabwe, along with many, many other people, all going to Zambia to go shopping for all the essentials not available in the empty stores in Zimbabwe. We then went to the Shearwater desk on the bridge, registered and gave them our voucher. There wasn't a line so as soon as my son got there, he was suiting up. The jump-masters were all very professional and cheerful – seemed like a great job. Soon enough, Russ was poised on the edge of the bridge, then he was off. As soon as I can figure out how to edit it, or maybe I won't bother, I'll post the video we took on youtube.


On the way back we stopped in at the falls, ($20 each entrance). It was an unbelievable sight! So much water! We walked around to the various vantage points, and I can see how one would be soaked when the water is high. And, there was a group fishing, right in the water, about 20 feet from the edge! One slip, and they would be gone. I guess the fish were good...

New Years Eve: We had reservations for dinner at the Ilala, and it turned out beautifully. We (or at least I) were very worried about the cash situation, and so did not have any wine from what looked to be a long and excellent wine list, but at the end of dinner the hotel gave us a complimentary bottle of bubbly, so we got to toast each other anyway. Dinner was very good, 3 courses. The hotel seemed to be full, with lots of South Africans or Zimbabweans, all white. I was talking to some white Zimbabwean teens at the bungee jumping, who said that Victoria Falls is the place to go in Zimbabwe to party.


The next day we had a good breakfast (very British, there were kippers, and broiled tomatoes, and Marmite which brought back many memories for my sister and me as we have spent time in former British colonies) and we were off for more adrenaline. This time we were picked up (thank goodness!) and whisked off for the gorge swing and the flying fox – videos to be posted. Here's some more info: http://www.eyesonafrica.net/african-safari...-info.htm#swing. The flying fox was basically a slow zip line, and it was not much fun, but the gorge swing was a blast, according to the kids. All the online descriptions say you have to walk out, but that wasn't true in our case – they were winched back up. It was essentially the same as the bungee jump, but the harness was around your chest, rather than your ankles.


The kids had a ball at their respective activities, and I am glad we included them – they were a good change from the rest of the trip. But, it was time to go home.


Some thoughts on Zimbabwe: I am glad we went. Here's a thread on the other place where I was wondering if we should cancel this part of the trip: http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect....mp;tid=35170859. One of the posters there states that 51% of all proceeds from foreign and white owned businesses goes to the government, so I guess that Comrade Bob got some of our money. But, we felt safe, and all those businesses employed a lot of people. I talked to a lot of Zimbabweans, very few of whom were actually local – they were from other villages and towns, come to Victoria Falls to work as there wasn't any back home. The touts were there, but they mostly backed off when we said No, thanks, except from one very enterprising young man, John from Zambia, but even he wasn't too bad. Maybe it was the fact that we all spoke the same language, but it wasn't anywheres near as bad as Egypt. I wasn't worried about cholera, there was bottled water everywhere. But, the disintegrating infrastructure was really apparent. It reminded me a lot of Egypt, but there the various projects seemed to be progressing a teeny bit. In Zimbabwe, they had stopped, completely. Roads in disrepair, with bulldozers abandoned right next to them, but those roads were still drivable. You could ignore the problems, as a tourist. I would personally NOT recommend handing out goods or money, but this is another discussion – let me just say that it could be that foreign aid is part of the problem in Africa, not part of the solution – check these out, among other articles:








This might be an answer: http://africansolutions.org/


Anyway, off the soap box, time to go home. We flew from Victoria Falls to JNB, then home. We spent a pleasant couple hours in the Air France lounge at JNB, since there wasn't a Delta lounge. The only problem there was my sister got very sick on the flight from something she ate there, the butter. She said it tasted off, and the flight crew was concerned enough to have the paramedics waiting when we arrived in Atlanta. It was rough, but she recovered.


Comments: I had not realized that we were going to be on a Wilderness Safaris package at first, (http://www.eyesonafrica.net/safaris/area_saf/green-desert.htm) and I was concerned since I would have preferred a smaller, locally owned company. But, Lebala (http://www.eyesonafrica.net/african-safari-botswana/kwando-lebala.htm) and Xigera are about the same size camps, yet Xigera employs twice as many people. Granted, I understand that Xigera also has the Xigera trails operation, and I believe it is locally owned, but, Xigera employs 50 people and Wilderness has a 3 months on 1 month off schedule. Whereas Lebala employs about 20 people with a 3 months on 3 weeks off schedule. So, the Xigera plan works for me. The difference in the camps was big – Xigera really had a Disney like feel – very slick, with almost tame animals wandering around. One very funny incident: there is a troop of baboons that lives around the camp, including three young ones. the kids went swimming, and when they came back they hung their suits out to dry on the railing outside of the cabin. As they went back to the cabins, he younger baboons went as well – I wonder if they realized that there were young humans. Anyway, younger son's suit is red, and when he hung it out, one of the baboons jumped down out of the trees, grabbed it and went back up, where he played with it for an hour or so. Son was mad but saw the humor in the situation. Finally, the baboon got bored, and dropped it so son got it back. And, it was just a little dirty, not as torn as I thought it would be. But, that seemed typical. Kwando was less packaged, the food was excellent, but simpler, the people maybe more genuine. I don't know, I'm having trouble putting my finger on the difference. But, I think there is a place for both. If more people develop an appreciation for Africa, then it's all good. The Botswanan government does the most important thing, as far as I know (and let me stress that I am by no means an expert, this is my first safari in many years and my first in southern Africa) by restricting the total number of people in the parks – do they also restrict them in the concessions? So, even if there are chocolate covered strawberries and plunge pools, I would think (hope) that the overall human footprint is reasonably small, and that is the most important aspect of our travel. Folks told me that Ian Khama is a good and strong advocate for the wild places and animals in Botswana, so I hope he sees the long term benefits of restricting access to those places. I do hope, however, that there are price points for everyone, that there are trips and lodges that are affordable. So far, there seems to be. We had to do this trip in the green season because that was what we could afford. And, I think our sightings were great! Lebala was quiet, but each time we went out, during the whole trip, we saw at least one cool thing. I guess the debate on budget of high end covers this subject pretty well.


Notes on camping: Most of our group had been camping before, except for my nephew who much prefers urban comforts. So, we were mostly looking forward to this part. The tents ere perfectly big, I think they are described as 9' square. There was room for 2 cots and a little end table. My 6' husband stood up with no trouble, and room to spare. The cots were comfortable, maybe 2' wide, military type cots with a mattress on top. I found them to be much more comfortable than I thought they would be, and my husband who has a bad back slept well every night and had no back problems. Nice sheets and pillows, and a thick duvet that was totally unnecessary in the heat of the summer. Right out back, ensuite, I guess, was the loo, a hole dug in the ground with a toilet type seat on top. Worked just fine – there was a pile of dirt and a trowel, and you just covered everything up when done. Each tent had its own loo. We had two showers for the 7 of us, and we were instructed to turn the water on, get wet, turn the water off, soap up and then rinse. The staff brought the water, heated over the fire, and poured it into the bucket (5 gallons, maybe?) which was then hoisted up in the trees to a comfortable height, and tied off. The system worked beautifully, and they were wonderful showers. The kids thought the camping was fun – and the showers felt so good. My older son particularly loved the feeling of being out in the wild, far from anything, with dangerous predators right there – the first night we woke to leopard tracks right through the camp. Apparently they will drink from the washing up stands outside the tents.


The food was amazing – Daniel, the manager, explained their system to me: before the trip the three of them, Daniel, Rob and Obi got together. Daniel and Rob figured out which camping supplies we would need, and Obi worked up a complete menu for the 5 days we would be with them. She then made a shopping list and went to “the cage” where she requisitioned the dry goods and staples. These were put in “our cage” along with the other supplies, tents and etc. She was issued a PO and went shopping with that for the fresh foods, meats, veg etc. It all came to the camping spot on a big 15' BMW flatbed truck. There was 1,000 litres of water and a freezer, run off batteries, on that truck. Obi made everything over an open fire – she had a really neat oven kind of thing, a metal box 2' square, 10' deep, that had a platform in it. Coals were put on the bottom under the platform, and on top of the box, and out of it came amazing cookies, breads, gratins, all kinds of things. Every night we had a meat, several vegetables and a starch, and dessert, with excellent South African wine (Robertson's, I think) or GT's or Castle or St Louis. Lunch was leftovers very creatively made into a bobotie, or a quiche, with salads. I remember our first night was Chicken Underground, chicken covered in herbs, which she wrapped very well and literally buried underground with coals. It was delicious!


And, we were there over Christmas, so we asked Andy if the staff would like to join us for Christmas Eve dinner – if that wouldn't be a problem. I hated to add to their work by disrupting what was obviously a very well organized system. And, they did, and we had a great time. I was teasing Rob, a young guy, about whether he had a girlfriend. Turns out that his folks have a young lady picked out for him, that he will be marrying, whom he hasn't met yet. The others all have families and kids. After some thought, I did bring some Obama stuff (I couldn't think of anything else) and I gave each of them a little pin that says HOPE. They seemed pleased. They sang some songs for us – it was a wonderful evening. And, you should see the Christmas tree they had for us! There's a picture here: http://tinyurl.com/74x3s6.


One thing that was interesting: we had a little portable DVD player, for down times (we had so many electronics, in between the ipods, handheld gaming devices, and cameras, it was ridiculous). Andy had brought the dvd of The N 1 Ladies Detective Agency, the BBC production, that we were really looking forward to watching. The night we had the player charged up, we all, staff and us, crowded around this little 8" screen, and put it on. It didn't work! Aaargh - it was a region 2 dvd, and we had a region 1 player. Rats! So, we watched part of a Tom Cruise movie, which was pretty surreal. Out in the bush watching Tom Cruise. At one point, someone asked if it was a true story. This really brought home the enormous cultural divide - at one point in the movie they went into the basement, and I found myself explaining what a basement is.


I can't say enough about the people who took care of us and the camping – if anyone thinks about doing something like that – do it! In planning the trip, I quite specifically wanted different experiences, and ecosystems, and we had all that. It worked really well!

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Thanks for the report and photos over here too.

I remember when you were trying to come up with some gifts. The Hope pins were a great idea!


That is one species I don't have a picture of, except the one being pulled out of the ground by a hornbill--the millipede.


I bet your kids are now hooked on Africa.

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Nice report, Momliz............ In the Green Season, the Linyanti can be hit or miss with the rains. The big herds and the plains game being more dispersed and the predators just moving through their home ranges. That said, you had excellent luck with the Selinda pack. Not to forget, all the water around from the excessive water levels in the entire region. Even during the height of the dry season, in terms of the Elephant viewing - it was pretty average compared to normal years.


So, did you have two vehicles for your group? with Charles and Hector taking care of the group?


The Selinda pack as I recall, fragmented after the loss of the old alpha female in 2007. Hopefully, the different sub-packs will rebound and flourish!


Your visit to the CKGR sounds fantastic also and a place I really am keen to visit.

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no, we just had the one vehicle, with Hector and Simon. It worked for us, since we enjoy photography but are not fanatics. I did like the WS 3 rows of 2 seats, particularly in the Land Cruiser we had for the CKGR, which had a nice aisle down the middle. We kept the canvas top on, but you could take it off if so inclined. The pack we saw had 7 dogs who had recently lost 4 puppies - very sad!


Great hippo picture, Ken! It was a highlight for us.

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An enjoyable read....


As well as a fun trip it sounds like the kids got an education too.

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