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Bits and pieces from Botswana Dec 2010/Jan 2011

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pault

I don't think I need to write a full trip report here since most of what I have to say would be much of what you have heard before. So I'll just post some bits and pieces about the trip and the places we visited, and a few photos. If you remind me I will post a link to a "Botswana for Beginners" style travelogue on my Smugmug site when I finish, although I expect there will be enough here already.

 

Feel free to ask any questions, even ones that appear dumb. I will be delighted that I actually know something you don't, and there are definitely others around who can correct me if I mess up. Only ignorant people actually learn anything.

 

Here's the itinerary as it ended (not how it began). Numbers are nights.

1-2 Royal Tree Lodge, Maun

3-4 Deception Vally Lodge, adjacent to Central Kalahari Game Reserve - mobile safari

5-9 Deception Valley campsite, Central Kalahari Game Reserve

10-12 Meno-a-Kwena, adjacent to Makgadikgadi Pans National Park

13-15 Bodumatau campsite in Moremi Game Reserve - mobile safari

16-18 Xakanaxa campsite in Moremi Game Reserve - mobile safari

19-21 Mapula Lodge, Okavango Delta

22 Island Safari Lodge, Maun

23-24 Beachwood Hotel, Johannesburg

 

Names next to campsites are the general area, not the name of the camp sites, which are unrecallable things like MOBCK03.

 

The rather puzzling first four days were for the sake of my mum, who joined my wife and me for part of this trip. The last two days were because Air Botswana are hopeless and/or possibly unencumbered by feelings of responsibility. I'm not going to go on about it, and you can be the judge. :o

 

This may take some time to complete.....

Edited by pault

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pault

Let's get the dirty, negative stuff out of the way first..... Air Botswana. I will forget about it in a short while, but I want to add to the "legend in the making" first.

 

Background: Legend-in-the-making has it that Air Botswana have not really had enough planes since one of their (grounded) pilots committed suicide by crashing an Aiir Botswana plane he stole from the tarmac at the airport into most of the rest of their small fleet.

 

Basically, the scheduled morning Maun-Johannesburg flight decided to terminate in Gabarone, and we were told to take a later scheduled flight from Gabarone to Johannesburg. Pilot announced that he had been "instructed to land in Gabarone"/ Later on the ground we were told it was a "technical problem". Of course we missed our connecting lfight to Bangkok.

 

Interesting conspiracy theory. Of the people on the morning flight, all but five of us had flights in the evening, and so could still make their connections. The morning flight had only about 20 people on board, and we just fit nicely into the spare seats on the later Gabarone- Johannesburg flight. Cost of the unscheduled landing to Air Botswana was accommodation and food at a Johannesburg hotel (three room nights altogether plus 15-18 meals). Cost of landing in Johannesburg alone would be so much more, never mind fuel.

 

To add insult to insult, Air Botswana told us that they had confirmed our onward flight with Thai Airways, which we had to wait for two days for (not daily) and even gave me a piece of paper as "evidence". In fact they had not done that at all and if the Thai Airways flight two days later had been full we would have been bounced and had to wait another three days. That is the thing that worries me most - more than the fact that we were initially asked to pay a penalty for missing the flight without notice by Thai Airways, only avoided because we had kept all the documentary evidence and the Station Manager saw it and decided we were after all not to blame.

 

The defence ioptions are a plea of "not guilty by reason of incompetence"; or a counterargument that "technical problems do happen, captains misunderstand messages from the control tower - or misspeak, and computer glitches happen all the time. And so, ladies and gentlement of the jury, is it really so hard to believe that they all happened consecutively, within an hour of each other?"

 

I don't have any pictures to go with this "bit".

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pault

An interesting story is the Boteti River. I saw Jan's pictures recently, but it didn't hit me until I was there at Meno-a-Kwena that this is really now quite a big river. Obviously it has changed many things in the area. Here are a few pictures to illustrate this.

 

Elephants bathing in front of Meno-a-Kwena

 

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This is the entrance to Makgadikgadi Pans National Park.... formerly the entrance road, now you can only use this gate if you have a boat. Since all the signs are still there, telling people this is the entrance, and GPS navigations systems still instruct their users that this is the correct way to go, apparently some people have imagined the river is not as deep as it looks and is crossable, discovering their mistake when the water came over their roof.

 

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This should possibly be a sign to those motorists that something is wrong..... ducks next to the park entrance road.

 

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View of the river from Meno-a-Kwena - it is by no means at its widest here because there are cliffs on both sides in this area. The trees are mostly dead now of course. I have another (unprocessed) photo of two hippos fighting under them - must have been nice for them to have shade while the trees were still alive.

 

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Of course the electric fence which was supposed to separate the park and the surrounding areas has long since shorted out and can be crossed by most animals that wish, so there is again the human-wildlife conflict that so much was spent on this fence to resolve.

 

My Mum inside the national park. There are some nice islands in the river here - it is really quite beautiful.

 

1165330975_MtQXP-L.jpg

Edited by pault

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pault

Another interesting (to me) story about the elephants of Makgadkgadi Pans National Park is that the family groups led by the females still migrate away from the area during the rains (and I think, possibly, for most or all of the year... my memory fails me). This area used to be quite dry but the pumped waterholes provided at least a little water for animals during the worst of the dry season. Now of course there is water year round, but the female elephants have not changed their routines and come no more often than they ever did. The males on the other hand love the abunddance of water and food in a single place, and are all over the place near the river. So out of hundreds of elephants I saw from the hide and my room at Meno a Kwena, and in the national park, not one was a female. There is consequently a bit of a locker-room feel to the fun in the water in the area and lots of huffing and trumpeting and general bad behaviour. Take a strereotypical view of what heppens when you have a few hundred men left in paradise (abundant food and water and no human or predator threat unless they cross the river) without any women for months at a time, and it is really quite like that.

 

Flap, flap... huff, huff.... so convincingly scary!

 

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Actually, I would not want to be self-driving here - I\'d have kittens. But our guide, Max, assured us that he knows the worst-offending boys - the locals - and they are all noise. If you try to drive away, they may well come at you, but if you stand your ground, they\'ll puff themselves out in 30 seconds or so. Others, out-of-town visitors, seemed quite skittish and generally ran for it if you get too close. How much longer Max will be of this world, we\'ll see (just joking, I felt safe with him and the elephants as he retreated when unsure - it wasn\'t all macho).

 

Trumpet, trumpet... stomp, stomp.... whooo, whoooo...

 

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Soon docile, interested and even appearing intelligent again

 

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Down at the water old friends meet and there\'s a lot of bumping and tussling and trunk pulling, and when they get all wet they get into that Greco Roman wrestling thing... like greased up boys in the gym (I\'m channeling Jack Kerouac and Neal Casady here, as I have no direct experience of wrestling - but it\'s a better analogy than rugby).

 

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And sometimes, as happens with these things, nobody really \"started it\", but in the enthusiasm it all just goes a little bit too far....

 

1165187591_UMKoE-L.jpg

Edited by pault

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Game Warden

Great treatment of the photos mate: the black borders really project the image forward. Nice work. How about a quick tutorial in the photography talk subforum?

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Atravelynn

These are beautiful photos! In the contest of Paul vs. the photo op, Paul won.

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twaffle

Paul, this is a great start. I have always loved your photos and you have delivered yet again! You have a fantastic eye (or is it Mrs Paul) :o

Love your style of writing, looking forward to more.

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Pangolin

I agree. Great start. Sorry about you Air Botswana experience. I keep hearing all the horror stories, yet have never experienced one myself. Nothing worse than being about 30 minutes late.

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pault
I agree. Great start. Sorry about you Air Botswana experience. I keep hearing all the horror stories, yet have never experienced one myself. Nothing worse than being about 30 minutes late.

 

Yes, same with me for Kenya Airways... let's both touch wood. Anyway, it's part of the price of entry I guess, and I have to admit it was a calculated risk to spend the last night in Maun rather than Johannesburg. Plus, there was a silver lining for my wife as she got to spend her birthday at DeWildt with the cheetahs.

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Sangeeta

Fantastic ele pictures, Paul. Yes, those black borders really do make them pop out.

 

Just read through what I thought was a thoroughly enjoyable Botswana report at F - what a bonus to read an equally enjoyable one here :)

 

Looking forward to reading about your experiences at Mapula.

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Jan

I love the Meno a Kwena photos, and Max with the paddle! I shall be back there in November.

 

 

 

Jan

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johan db

Some excellent ellie pics here :)

 

Air Botswana, some of us know what to expect from them. Sad but (very) true ...

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pault

Thanks for the very nice comments, and apologies for disappearing as soon as I started.... it's a busy time of year. Hopefully my apostrophes won't come out as slashes this time.

 

The weather seems like a good topic to ramble about, especially since one of my big questions before I went was "What will the weather be like and what impact will it have on our experiences?" Hari has since mentioned this very topic, but it’s a popular one so I'll stick with it.

 

This isn't my first ‘green’ safari by any means, but because we were in small tents for so much of the time it seemed the riskiest. However, we were reasonably fortunate with the weather, with a few reminders that it might have been much worse.

 

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Generally we had one very wet day everywhere we stayed, whether two days or five - strange but true. In the CKGR there were storms everywhere, but they were so localised that only one actually ‘got’ us while we were out. Funnily (or not) we crossed paths with Ewan Masson, who we were sharing our camp site with for two nights, and he was heading back to near camp because the weather looked bad. Our guide (Nick Langton) said we'd drive on a little more as it was no more likely to rain at point A than point B. Of course that was correct, but of course two minutes later the rain started pouring down and the wind started howling. We decided to get the side flaps on the Landrover down and sit it out and got thoroughly wet (looked like someone had turned a fire hose on the Landrover afterwards) only to find out when it eased and we started heading back to camp that a few hundred meters away it hadn't rained at all. Two unlucky decisions that I would tease Nick about whenever clouds appeared from then on, but he adopted a low risk strategy after that and we never got hit by a bad storm out on the road again. The Central Kalahari gave us another good whipping while we were out on a walk at Deception Valley Lodge. Both storms just came in so quickly, with blue skies turning to a mini-hurricane scenario within minutes, and then disappearing as quickly as they had come. Of course we’re quite used to similar weather in Thailand, but we don’t usually go out in it in an open vehicle or on foot.

 

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Of course one of the nice things about these short and violent storms is that after they go you can get the strangest light, or rainbows, or fabulous sunset skies. We were lucky to have afternoon storms that cleared before six a few times on this trip.

 

Rainbows!

 

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Spectacular skies!

 

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Strange light

 

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Atomic detonations!

 

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The special light after evening rain

 

1176372132_J3R2d-L.jpg

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pault

With skies like this, who needs wildlife? Which is just as well because the rains often seemed to make the wildlife disappear and the remaining animals weren’t looking very photogenic or interested in doing much (exception: birds eating frogs) . I have a number of pictures of animals in the rain, looking miserable, but I don't have many to post, because they are mostly miserable looking pictures that are not worth processing. After the rain, the light was sometimes very nice of course, but also low. I was very glad I bought a new camera that could handle shooting at high ISOs just before this trip or I’d have many fewer pictures than I do.

 

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We were also a bit miserable a few times thanks to the rain. Although we had an eccentric three course dinner in our raincoats one evening and that was fun (except for the soup being a little watery), afterwards trying to get dry to go to bed and having to keep all the flaps zipped up or velcroed down, it wasn’t so much fun to be honest. The tents held up very well, but there’s not much space or light in there. Still, there’s no more interesting place to be miserable and wet than Africa.

 

 

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Staying on the downside of the rain, the last five days, including Mapula, the weather was getting worse and a depression was settling in, with drizzle and low cloud sometimes lasting for hours – when we left Mapula it looked as if the low cloud had settled in for a few days. There were noticeably fewer animals around (although we saw wild dogs twice in Moremi once the weather turned bad – they were not bothered!) and the driving got a bit more difficult with the falling rain combining with the rising floodwaters (we were in the Xakanaxa area for the last three days before Mapula). It was still good and worthwhile, and we continued to see some nice sights, but to be honest we were a day of blue skies (and a leopard) away from a great end to the trip. For the record, Mapula was mostly accessible in early January and would likely be more so in December. Some areas were under shallow water, and with that and the long grass off-roading was a bit limited, but possible if the incentive was great enough.

 

Rain again…

 

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I’m not bothered!

 

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A nice day at Mapula

 

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On the upside, the rain brought amazing and unanticipated sights and sounds to the extent that I am a little reluctant to say the balance was negative. The frogs at night in Xakanaxa were a wonder. The woods were full of a symphony orchestra of their voices – deep ones, high ones, mysterious rhythmic ones trilling over one note wonders anchoring their rhythm – and all together strangely making a lullaby that encouraged sleep.

 

And after the night of the frogs we found the bullfrogs mating in the shallow lake that some of the plains on the road from Bodumatau to Third Bridge had become. Nick caught one of the frogs to show us – took him 20 minutes but our eyes nearly popped out of her heads when we saw what he’d got.

 

Then we found a spawning ground where the water was full of mating frogs and their spawn and the air full of their deep croaking. Fabulous!

 

Bad moment for a frog

 

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As we hadn’t seen anything the casual visitor would be excited about for a couple of days, we used the bullfrogs as our trading card for news of sightings of leopards, lions and so on for the next 24 hours, but Nick won’t be getting tips from the guides at the Xakanaxa lodges for a while, because when we went back the next day they were gone – silence, and the only sign of them their spawn in the water. Nick was adamant that the few storks and ibises in the area couldn’t possibly have done for them – the females perhaps, but not the huge males. But we had seen an unusual number of Bataleurs and they had been rather low in the sky, and sure enough we soon discovered a clue as to where the bullfrogs had gone.

 

Very bad moment for a frog

 

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So, you’re a bullfrog. You are born in a puddle which dries up almost as soon as you make your first jump. You eat and eat and grow and grow until the earth starts to harden and then you dig as deep as you can, down to where it will remain moist through the long dry season. You switch off all of your inessential body functions and slow down the rest and wait. Months later, the rains come and you dig your way back out, eat like mad, find a mate and mate like mad, and just when life is starting to make sense at last….. BANG!.... the end.

The bullfrogs were a highlight of the trip, but it could be that you had to be there.

 

Highlight… agreed… absolutely deee-licious! And of course you had to be there....

 

1192831804_jpiP7-L.jpg

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pault

As I found Lynn’s stats so interesting, I’ll add some trip stats here for people who like bite-sized and possibly misleading impressions.

 

Punctures: 0

 

Stuck in mud: 1 (Mapula)

 

Soaked: 4 (DVL, CKGR, Mapula, South Africa)

 

Days rained out (i.e. activities canceled or undertaken with extreme caution and no expectations): 1

 

Days the tent flooded: 0

 

Longest drive: 5 hours (CKGR to Meno-a-Kwena with wet roads part of the way)

 

Lion sightings: CKGR: 3; Meno-a-Kwena: 1; Moremi: 3; Mapula: 1

 

1203681576_Tf6um-L.jpg

 

Cheetah sightings: CKGR: 1

 

Leopard sightings: 0

 

Wild dog sightings: Moremi: 2

 

Rhino sightings: 0

 

Hyena sightings: Moremi: 1

 

Buffalo sightings: 0 (really – well, I saw some from the air on the last day)

 

Firsts: Aardwolf (CKGR); Cape Pendulum Tit entering nest (CKGR); Bullfrogs (Moremi); Red Lechwe (Moremi); Red Hartebeest (CKGR); Various birds (standouts: Wooly-necked Storks, ……. Snake Eagle and Carmine Bee-eater) and insects (standout: Red Velvet Mite) and a couple of reptiles not seen before (standout: Black Mamba).

 

Disappointing misses: Honey Badger, Meerkat, Leopard (first time we’ve been to Africa and not seen one, so I guess we shouldn’t be too disappointed), Buffalo

 

Average number of other vehicles at sightings: 0.06 (estimate)

 

Maximum number of vehicles at one sighting: 3 (in CKGR!!)

 

Hopefully useless skills learned: How to boil water in a newspaper on a campfire; How to catch a bullfrog

 

1162651409_qGwDg-L.jpg

 

 

Best story (only because Mum believed it for a whole day): After the Boteti River stopped flowing the crocodiles stayed in the area and survived, despite there only being water for a short time each year. They made burrows in the high river banks and lived in them. Because there was so little food available in the dry season, and of course the crocodiles couldn’t catch much of what was available on land, they had to start eating grass to survive. They actually evolved.…..

 

Of course there have to be a lot more true details first, I have to be looking stoney-faced into your eyes when I tell it and you can’t be too aware that crocodiles can live for months on a single meal, but it’s not a bad one.

 

Here are some carnivorous hippos in the Boteti…

 

1194218381_sMaak-L.jpg

 

 

Well, someone in Botswana found my sense of humour amusing….

 

1198379091_pfnQC-L.jpg

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pault

I think Moremi was my favorite place, probably because it was very quiet while we were there and so we really had some space, our camps were shady and beautiful spots in the woods and I took my best photos there (not that I mean the ones immediately below).

 

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I loved the CKGR but it is too waterless for my wife I think.

 

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Deception Valley Lodge and Meno-a-Kwena are a different sort of experience and serve a specific purpose very well or can even be the destination for a quite relaxing holiday.

 

Mapula is a lovely concession and wildlife rich, although we had only average luck with that while we were there (having said that few if any people were comparing it unfavorably with the concessions they had visited before). However, I will never get used to the idea of nine people in a vehicle as an “exclusive” or “wilderness” experience, but that seems to be quite normal in Botswana and even southern Africa as a whole. It’s four max in many places in East Africa where I generally go and I’m not sure whether I prefer more vehicles or more people in the vehicle with me (actually I am sure but there is an ethical consideration) . I know you can get a private vehicle but that seems to be out of budget for most people. So I think in theory these concessions are a good idea and I feel “good” about it, but at the same time, when camps are full I don’t think I would enjoy it that much (err.. I would actually enjoy it very much, but I mean compared to having 3 or 4 or 5 people). Although I tried to look at it positively and from other angles I still came to the conclusion that the Botswana concessions are rather poor value for money . Having said that the experiences are priceless so it’s almost a meaningless statement (but not quite). I’m guessing that I am writing mostly for people who have more experience of Botswana than me, but if not the nine people is something Mapula tried to avoid through scheduling of mokoro trips and walks and I am sure other places do similar, but all the resultant organisation required... well, I should really try it for a little longer before I reach any conclusions. :mellow:

 

Desert Skies

 

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(any banding likely due to your monitor I think, but please tell me if you think otherwise)

 

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That's not really the intended end, but it sort of can be if necessary.... just in case. I quite like reliving my trips, regardless of whether anyone reads it, and if I can find time I'll share a few more moments.

 

 

1188476112_8Ddnq-L.jpg

Edited by pault

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madaboutcheetah

Lovely pictures, Paul. Enjoyed your trip report very very much!!!

 

Loved that aerial picture of the Hippos in water. Awesome.

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johan db

Very much enjoyed the reading and pictures. It was worth waiting for.

 

We almost drowned in the CGKR last year as we were surprised by a thunderstorm. We were at Letiahau and camping near Owen's camp (Deception). Luckily Ewan managed to get us back, others weren't that fortunate and had to spend the night on the road. :mellow:

 

Private concessions are indeed very much overrated these days as the companies got greedy and the delta is becoming wet again. I said it a zillion times ... Although I loved my safaris in Botswana, nowadays the price/quality of a lodge safari is bottom end compared to similar experiences in other countries. B)

 

Quite surprised you didn't see a honey badger at the CGKR.

 

Ciao,

 

Johan

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Kavey

Oh what a magical thread!

 

And I love the whole section about the frogs - how marvellous, even the bit about the sad life of the bullfrog!!!

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pault

Thanks, Hari.

 

Johan... I believe Ewan referred to that experience that night as the reason he was heading back closer to camp when we passed him - once (too many times) bitten.

 

The bit about private concessions probably needs a rewrite (typed it late last night in teh taxi on the way home) but I think I'll leave it because it sounds rather confused and ambivalent, and that probably reflects how I feel. I certainly get your pouint though Johan - don't have enough knowledge to be able to say whether I agree with it, but I think I better understand what you're saying now.... and to some extent why so many love it despite that.

 

And I'd say the mobile safaris are decent value for money in terms of the experience and the possibilities.

 

I should also emphasise that I am not picking out Mapula - that's just where I was and my understanding is that it is not fundamentally "better" or "worse" than most other concessions.

 

Edit: And thanks Kavey.... that was one of the best bits for sure!

Edited by pault

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johan db

Paul,

 

Botswana is still a magical place but not if you have to pay tourist prices for a stay at the opulent lodges :mellow:

 

It's funny that some of these concessions are still marketed on events/conditions of years ago. Of course, if you are not familiar with that particular area, you don't know.

 

I'll think none of us will ever forget that thunderstorm in the CGKR B)

 

Ciao,

 

Johan

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Jan

pault, I've loved your report and photos. The story about the Air Botswana pilot commiting suicide by crashing into other

 

planes is true. Back in the late 90's my husband and I were talking to a pilot who flew us around Tanzania and he told us

 

that it was true. We were frequent travellers to Botswana at that time, and of course I still am. I was also a guest at

 

Meno a Kwena when the river was dry, and I have photos of the crocodiles and just a few puddles.

 

 

Jan

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Pangolin

Pault-

 

Great stuff - stories and pictures. Well worth the wait. I too am surprised that you saw no honey badgers in the CKGR, but you had a great time nonetheless.

 

The Air Botswana saga is indeed true.

 

Next time - leopards and honey badgers galore!

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Sangeeta

I was so hoping that you'd come back & finish up the report, Paul & I have to say, it's been well worth the wait.

 

Loved your musings and ramblings and the terrific photographs were icing on the cake. Great writing - thanks for sharing.

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Jochen
Private concessions are indeed very much overrated these days as the companies got greedy and the delta is becoming wet again. I said it a zillion times ... Although I loved my safaris in Botswana, nowadays the price/quality of a lodge safari is bottom end compared to similar experiences in other countries. :D

 

Hey Johan,

 

I remember you making this statement on various boards, and I am glad some people, like Paul, finally come to the same conclusion. It must have been a bit frustrating for you.

 

Well, more so on Fodors than here. There, even if you voice your opinion in a general way, you get the heat from people who are basically defending their purchase. A behavior that is proven by psychologists, yes, but annoying nonetheless. Certainly if you got the track record to prove that you know of what you speak.

 

 

@Paul; I enjoyed your trip report a lot. It shows that you do not need the best circumstances to enjoy a safari and to get fantastic pictures.

 

And about those pictures; I don't know how you do it, but somehow your pics convey a better image of what a safari actually is, compared to most trip reports I've seen (including my own). Perhaps it's the choice of subjects, but you definitely have the eye as well.

 

B.regs,

 

J.

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