Monthly Archives: November 2014

Photography and report by Bert Duplessis

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An impressive yawn by a lion on the Maasai Mara

I re-visited four different areas of Kenya (the coast, the Rift Valley, the Maasai Mara and Samburu) earlier this month and yes, Kenya is still the Rolls Royce of safari destinations. It is a vintage model with 150,000+ miles on the clock, in need of a new paint job, with worn, dusty floor mats and slightly fraying leather here and there. But the quality is still there: the engine is sound and it will get you where you want to go safely and in style.

Kenya has many problems such as a rapidly burgeoning population, tribalism, a faltering economy, corruption, congestion, lack of infrastructure, poverty and several others. Yet at its core it is still a warm and friendly and amazingly beautiful country which offers visitors an astonishing array of attractions and places to visit. Nowhere else in the world will you see as much wildlife and so many different species, in such a relatively small area. Nowhere else will you be exposed to such cultural diversity in a setting where ‘culture’ is interwoven with the safari experience: you don’t have to take a side-trip to meet with the Maasai or the Samburu. They are where the wildlife is and continue to co-exist harmoniously. Nowhere else can you experience such a dizzying variety of habitats ranging from the Mara’s sea of grass to the semi-arid woodland and scrub of Samburu, the mountains of the Laikipia region, the alkaline and fresh water lakes of the Rift Valley, the fantastic beaches in the Tana Delta or elsewhere on the coast, the true forests of the west and many others which I have not yet had the opportunity to visit.

And then there’s the people. Kenya’s best kept secret. Go ahead and learn a few Swahili phrases and see for yourself just how friendly Kenyans can be. On this trip I had people everywhere spontaneously taking an interest in where I was from & where I had been, and they were genuinely pleased to be able to interact with a visitor on a personal level. These were not people anticipating a gratuity or some other award: just ordinary people wanting what we all seek: the warmth that flows when one human being connects with another.

I will deal with the various parts of the trip – including the superb flights on Emirates (upgraded to Business Class all the way!) via Dubai – in separate posts to follow over the next couple of weeks or so. For now, a few of my favorite photographs of the trip.

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Elephant mother and child approaching – Maasai Mara

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Elephant mother and child departing…

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Reedbuck on the edge of a lugga – Maasai Mara

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Wildebeest with the Ololoolo Escarpment in the background. We saw several thousands of these mammals on the Mara in early October.

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Close-up of Shakira, one of the ‘famous’ cheetahs in the northern Mara. The fame is due to her starring role (with her 3 now sub-adult cubs) in several wildlife documentaries.

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A particularly handsome lion on the Maasai Mara

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Maybe he was auditioning for a role in a documentary

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An Orma woman and child at a village in the Tana Delta on the Indian Ocean Coast

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Sheena having fun dancing with the Orma women

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One of my new hobbies: birds in flight. This is an African Skimmer.

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An as yet unidentified species of gull, on the freshwater Tana River.

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This African Fish Eagle was so close when it took off, I needed something less than a 200mm lens to get all of it in the frame.

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The most handsome of Giraffe species? I think so. A Reticulated Giraffe in the Samburu area.

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We saw several large groups of Reticulated Giraffes, including this party of nearly 30, at sunset.

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Samburu is very much ‘big sky’ country; here some clouds were building for what turned out to be a good soaking later that night.

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‘Out of Africa’ scenery in the Samburu area.

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Breakfast in the garden at Loldia Hills overlooking Lake Naivasha, Rift Valley

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Flamingoes in Lake Nakuru, in the Rift Valley

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A large adult white rhino on the edge of Lake Nakuru

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A small young white rhino also at Lake Nakuru

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Sunset on the Maasai Mara.

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Two young lions drinking in the Talek River, Maasai Mara

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A few members of the Marsh Pride in the Governor’s Camp area, Maasai Mara

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A Schalow’s Turaco, at a birdbath in Governor’s Camp

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The first time I saw this bird was through the lens, at the birdbath in Governor’s Camp. It is a Double-Toothed Barbet.

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A Ross’ Turaco, in the same birdbath.

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This leopard kept many photographers waiting for hours, in anticipation of it descending from the tree.

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Three more members of the Marsh Pride, Maasai Mara, Kenya

 

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Photography and report by Bert Duplessis

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The Burj Al Arab Hotel, Dubai

OCTOBER 2009 Dubai is a strange and amazing place. Here desert meets development, Arab and Western culture co-exist and anything seems possible. Our short stop-over in Dubai was certainly an eye-opener for me. I had previously heard from friends and relatives that Dubai was worth visiting, but I was skeptical. Until now. For US-based travelers en route to East Africa, Dubai is definitely worth an overnight stop, or even a couple of nights if you have the time. As good a place as any to get over jet lag, take in a few sights, and marvel at the amazing development in the desert. There were so many construction cranes to be seen all over the city, it looked like Houston in the late 1970’s. Some construction had been halted – due to the worldwide recession – but definitely not all.

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The view from the lobby of the Burj Al Arab Hotel. Tasteful? Not even close. Impressive nonetheless.

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Looking up from the lobby. The average cost per night for a room here is over US$2000

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Yet another look upwards, showing the balconies on each level

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Entrances to some rooms at the Burj Al Arab Hotel

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A rather odd design element on the roof of the lobby floor at the Burj Al Arab.

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There is nothing that is not ornate at the Burj Al Arab. This is a table decoration in the lobby.

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The Jumeirah Beach Hotel as soon from the Burj Al Arab

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The Skyview Bar at the Burj Al Arab Hotel

Dubai boasts year round sunshine which is of course to be expected in the desert… What is not expected is an indoor downhill skiing facility complete with real snow, lush golf courses, international cricket tournaments, and a dizzying array of hotels, malls and office buildings. It is indeed a perfect getaway for shoppers, business people, families and adventure seekers as there is something for everyone.

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One of several reception desks inside the vast lobby of the Palm Atlantis Hotel in Dubai

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In true Dubai style, the lobby at the Palm Atlantis Hotel is also way over the top

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A young couple signing in at the Palm Atlantis Hotel

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From high up, a view over the pool and beachfront at the Palm Atlantis Hotel, Dubai

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A view over the massive water park entertainment center at the Palm Atlantis Hotel

Dubai is one of the seven emirates that form the United Arab Emirates. To say that it is a city of contrast is somewhat of an understatement. It is a very contemporary city against the backdrop of an ancient desert. For the casual visitor, there’s not much to be seen in the way of tradition, unless you count the traditional white clothing. With few exceptions, such as the Mosques and a city museum area, nothing in Dubai looks more than a few years old. Some not so welcome recent developments include traffic: we were stuck in at least two solid traffic jams during our short stay-over. So leave enough time to get back to the airport!

This is not the place to get into Dubai’s politics, which appear to be antediluvian in many respects. It is a classic oligarchy, with a handful of Emirati (less than 20% of the total population) ruling over a much larger yet politically impotent population of mostly guest workers who are not allowed to become citizens. There is no naturalization process. You can stay and work, but you can’t vote. Ever. And you turn into a pumpkin at age 58, when your temporary residency expires permanently. How nice for Dubai, not having to deal with pesky older workers with their health-related issues – and costs.

Our hotel for the overnight stop – the Dhow Palace – was conveniently located and seemingly well run. Certainly my room (a massive suite) was spotless and well lit, and very effectively air-conditioned. On the morning of our departure to Nairobi, several of us had breakfast in the downstairs restaurant; in addition to the usual ‘eggs to order’, and other breakfast choices, there was beef bacon and an impressive array of breads, pastries, cheeses, cold cuts, a couple of vegetarian dishes and plenty of fresh fruit.

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One of the interesting stops on our whirlwind city tour of Dubai: the indoor skiing facility

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There are no half measures in Dubai. This is the Burj Dubai (Burj Khalifa), the world’s tallest man-made structure

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A water side development with the Burj Dubai in the background

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Another view of a residential complex near the Burj Dubai

Dubai Airport was massive, clean, and modern. It had plenty of shopping carts but not enough toilets. I bought a replacement gold wedding band on the way back to the USA (more about the way in which it was lost, later) and thought the price was good. Getting to and from Dubai, the logical choice is Emirates Air. As their guests, we were fortunate to be upgraded to business class on each of the 4 legs flown; in my case it was New York-Dubai-Nairobi-Dubai-Houston. I’m not sure if it is really worth paying as much as $9,000 per person for a round-trip business class flight from Houston or New York to Nairobi, but for the most part it was an enjoyable experience. Which of course is a lot more than can be said about the usual experience in coach. Business class on Emirates goes hand in hand with a very high level of personal service. Feel like a special vegan mini-meal between meals? Not a problem. The seats are luxurious and fold down into a flat mini-bed, mattress supplied on request. The vegetarian meals were excellent and judging by what I saw on some of the other trays, so were the regular ones. The array of entertainment options (music, movies, TV shows etc) was practically endless. I even listened to some opera. Bravo! Unlike Delta (who don’t edit even R-rated movies as we saw on a recent flight from Atlanta to Jo’burg), Emirates is a complete nanny-airline, with some weird complex about swear words and nudity, amongst others. I have a real problem with censorship so this irked me somewhat. I suppose compared with some other things done in the name of religion in the past, excising f-bombs and nipples are relatively mundane. But really I am nit-picking. Every single flight was smooth and on time and I would fly Emirates again in a heartbeat. Even in coach.

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A partial view of the Jumeirah Mosque in downtown Dubai

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Old and new in the port of Dubai

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Some large dhows in the Dubai harbor, they appeared to be residences as well

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Mannequins in the Dubai souk

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A small but well-stocked spice and herb store in the Dubai souk

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As advertised, there was plenty of gold in the gold souk in Dubai

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Photography and report by Bert Duplessis

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Oct 7 2010

We spent our first night in Kenya at the Norfolk Hotel in downtown Nairobi. I suppose one could describe the Norfolk as being a bit like one’s favorite pair of shoes. Comfortable, dependable and durable. Not very exciting. We’re talking about everyday business apparel here, not dancing shoes. My courtyard room was smallish but well-equipped, the shower (no bath) water was hot, and the toilet flushed properly. What more do you really need in a hotel room? After two days of traveling, not much. Except maybe for a working internet connection, which was sadly lacking. Apparently there was a citywide outage, so I can’t really blame the Norfolk. We enjoyed a very good dinner at an Italian restaurant in a Nairobi suburb. I did not get much sleep due to the internet problem and jetlag. The best part of the stay was being able to run for almost an hour on a treadmill in the hotel gym. Breakfast the next morning was fine, with an extensive array of vegetarian options.

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My room at Serian Camp

The next day we were off to the Maasai Mara on a 36-seater Safarilink Dash 8, with about 23 persons on board. We disembarked at Musiara airstrip, named for the legendary Musiara Swamp, the scene of many a successful game drive. I would be back here about 10 days later. Our first three nights would be spent at Serian Camp, a superb tented camp on the Mara River in the North Mara Conservancy. Even before we landed at Musiara, I could see that there were still many wildebeest around and so it was: hundreds of them in every direction as far as you could see. Plenty of birds too; in short order we saw Ostrich, three species of vultures, several Senegal Plover and a Secretarybird and there were Lilacbreasted Rollers everywhere.

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The tent as seen from the outside; the bathroom is in a separate (adjacent) room just to the left – the steps which lead into the bathroom can be seen in the extreme left background

Serian Camp was very comfortable with large tented rooms on wooden decks, overlooking the Mara River. From the porch in front of my tent, I had a great view of the river, with the impressive Oololoolo Escarpment in the background. Very peaceful, with just the sound of rushing water breaking the silence. Of course nature is quiet, but rarely completely silent. And so it was. There was plenty of natural noise being produced at Serian, but it was all good: Whitebrowed Robins calling loudly from within the thick bush, Puffback Shrikes protecting their territories, sunbirds twittering and a Klaas’ Cuckoo producing its plaintive ‘meitjie’ call.

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A couch and table on the edge of Serian’s outdoor dining area

The afternoon game drive produced a prolific array of mammals including Coke’s Hartebeest, also known as Kongoni, some good views of Eland, topi everywhere, Maasai giraffe, and then just before sunset, a couple of lions, the first of many.

There is one big advantage of staying at Serian or Ngare Serian, the smaller and slightly more upscale adjacent camp, on the other side of the Mara River: all visitors have a private vehicle and guide, and total flexibility in their program.

By the end of the first half day of game-viewing in the Mara, I had seen as much wildlife as one would ordinarily expect to see in a week in some Southern African regions. Hundreds, if not thousands of wildebeest, zebras, impala, Thompson’s and Kirk’s Gazelles, about 70 or so giraffes, and several other species including the previously mentioned eland, kongoni, topi, duiker, bushbuck, warthog and several others.

By nightfall, we were relaxing around an open fire and enjoying a convivial get-together over drinks, with the sun setting over the Oololoolo Escarpment. Thoughts of Dubai – and Houston – were fading as fast as the light disappearing over the horizon.

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The dining room at Serian, the main evening meals are served here

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This room is part of the lounge at Serian, the dining room is to the left

The following day we were off early on a full day game drive. Not far out of camp, we found ourselves right in the middle of a group of 20 elephant, who continued to feed all around the vehicle. I was so happy to be back in Africa watching elephant stripping bark off a tree, listening to their rumbling sounds, and trying to get a good look at a baby elephant who seemed to be hiding behind his mother. They are simply the most fascinating creatures.

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A Tawny Eagle on the Maasai Mara near Serian

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Like practically everything else, the eagle had found something to eat

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There were many youngsters to be seen on the Mara in early October, including this young Topi

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Eland are notoriously shy, but we had a better than average look at this eland (one of a small party of 3) before it decamped

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A nice group of elephants on the edge of the Mara River

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We did not see hundreds or even dozens of wildebeest plunging into the Mara River, but we did see some…

This was at the Serena Crossing area along the Mara River, with several other vehicles around. Once we left the river, we started bumping into various groups of lions, first a female with a young lion, then two females with two babies. It was entertaining to see so many topi lookouts on large anthills, apparently keeping a close watch for predators. I later read that this is a form of territorial behavior. Two birds with one stone.

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Even some zebras were getting into the act and crossing the Mara River

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It was early in October with the migration still on-going, so we were not the only people along the Mara River

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It was lions lions everywhere on the Mara

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This baby was snuggled up against its mother while peering out at us from time to time

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Nowhere to hide for elephants on the Maasai Mara

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Most of the buffalo we saw on the Mara were in very small groups of 3 to 5 or so

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Yet another pride of lions on the Mara

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On this day, our aim was to find some cheetah and by mid-afternoon Warren spotted them: a female with three large cubs

We enjoyed lunch (sandwiches and pasta) in an absolutely divine spot on the Mara with drop-dead gorgeous views in practically every direction. I would have been quite happy to spend the rest of the afternoon right there, in a chair, perhaps reading something of no great consequence, only to be able to continue to enjoy the near endless views of blue mountains, ever-changing cloud formation, and the smoky haze obscuring the horizon. But we had come a long way to see stuff, not sit under a tree. So off we went in search of cheetah.

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It was Shakira, a well-known – some may even say famous – cheetah, due to her feature role in a widely watched TV documentary

Warren spotted the cheetah when he caught sight of something moving rapidly from right to left in the distance, on a grassy plain. There were four individuals, a female with 3 sub-adult youngsters. She had just taken down a young Tommy, and as we drove up the cheetah cubs were feeding voraciously. Later on the mother joined in as well. It was a spell-binding event, especially being so close: we could hear their rasping, rapid breathing. The female (we later learned that it was Shakira of TV fame) walked right up to the car and plopped down not much more than a couple of meters from the vehicle, looking up at us with the expression of an adoring puppy.

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Shakira is not shy at all. Here she is checking around for lions and hyenas while her three sub-adult cubs were feeding

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Cheetahs are very vulnerable to competition from other more powerful predators, but Shakira has been very successful keeping her cubs alive and thriving

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Shakira had taken down a young Thompson’s Gazelle and first the three youngsters and then Shakira herself, fed on the fresh kill

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Soon afterwards, Shakira got up and walked straight towards our vehicle, settling down in a shady spot just meters away from us

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Here she is walking towards the vehicle

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Meanwhile the youngsters were helping each other clean up

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Shakira gave us a few good looks

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And she was very fastidious about cleaning up after the hunt

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This old boy clearly had nowhere better to be

Friday October 9

Three of my hobbies intersected this morning when I went for a run with two young Kenyans, David and Daniel, starting from camp along the Mara River to a soccer pitch, and then up and around the camp twice, probably about 5 miles total. We ran through some very uneven terrain with rocks, tufts of grass and other obstacles and there was at least one pretty good hill, so it was quite a challenge. I almost stumbled and fell twice, not because of the obstacles but because I was gawking at the wildlife. Never before in more than 20 years of going on safari, had I seen even remotely as much game on a foot safari. There were dozens of wildebeest, topi, kongoni, zebra, Thomson’s Gazelles and impala to be seen. At one stage a herd of topi seemed to be running alongside us. Not long after we set off, we had to amend the route slightly in order to avoid a small group of buffalo. David stopped briefly a couple of times to point out some birds spcies. About halfway through the run Daniel peeled off to the right and came back with a gorgeous flower which he presented to me with a big smile. A very spontaneous gesture which I really appreciated. I met up with the rest of the group for brunch at the very impressive Ngare Serian Camp, which is reached by a footbridge across the Mara River.

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There were so many lions on the Mara! This one was part of a large pride being harassed by hyena

We were witness to a very tense standoff between a large group of about 20 to 30 hyenas, and four lions. After several mock charges and feints, the interaction fizzled out inconclusively, but it was clear that there was no love lost between the two groups. No wonder they have been described as eternal enemies.

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The young male was keeping an eye on the hyena, ready to spring into action if needed

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In my book, no Africa trip is complete without at least one sighting of a Secretarybird. Next time I will try to get all of the tail in the photograph

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Early in October 2009 there were still thousands of wildebeest to be seen in the northern part of the Maasai Mara

We enjoyed a late breakfast at Serian’s mobile tented camp inside the Maasai Mara National Park, right on the Mara River, close to several regularly used wildebeest crossing points.

For anyone who really wants to go for a prime wildlife experience in the Mara, Serian is an excellent choice. It is not a very ‘fancy’ camp but one cannot really describe it as rustic either. Alex Walker is a superb host and the presence of a lion research unit, headed by a young resident scientist – Sarah Blackburn – is a very interesting and educational ‘bonus’. Serian is located in a typical ecotone where several habitats are to be found right next to each other. The Mara River edged with riverine bush, acacia thornveld, mixed woodland and the grassy plains of the Mara. Hence the extraordinary number and variety of wildlife. We saw no other vehicles in the conservancy itself. Although we did not embark on any ourselves, night drives are possible. Ideally one should spend several days at Serian and then a couple of nights or so at the mobile tented camp inside the Park.

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A particularly handsome male lion on the Mara, one of many which we saw during the three days there

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Elephants can literally be seen from miles away in the open Mara environment

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Soon enough, we had to say goodbye to the Mara, before heading back to Musiara Airstrip and from there to Malindi on Mombasa Air

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October 11 2009

Late the previous night, we had arrived at Delta Dunes Lodge in near darkness. So it was only the next morning that we could find our bearings, realizing that we were in a very special place. Delta Dunes consists of 7 huge split-level rooms hugging a massive coastal dune with views over the Tana Delta estuary and the Indian Ocean. My room was very breezy, which was very welcome at this time of the year – it was quite hot. Some of the rooms are a long way up the hill, with many steep steps to be negotiated. The all-wood constructed rooms are lit day and night with mains power. It is a rustic but magnificent lodge, the rooms reminding me somewhat of Ras Kutani just south of Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania. We made very good use of the fabulous pool as well.

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A portion of the lounge at Delta Dunes Camp in the Tana Delta

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The bar at Delta Dunes camp. Plenty of ‘baridi’ Tuskers behind there somewhere

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Delta Dunes’ communal dining table. None of us went to bed early after dinner

Over the three days at Delta Dunes, the food was consistently well-prepared and delicious. It included seafood (fresh fish and prawns), lots of fresh fruit, lentils, vegetarian samoosas, delicious homemade coconut sorbet, and even a vegan chocolate cake!

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Warren and the Delta Dunes chef with a very nice barracuda

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Fresh fish for dinner

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Delta Dunes is certainly not for everyone – these steps (and more) have to be negotiated to get to the rooms

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A view from the lounge area

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Getting ready for a boating excursion at Delta Dunes

Activities at Delta Dunes are very diverse including windsurfing (beach sailing), on a massively wide beach at low tide. Fishing is good too, as our group leader Warren found out soon enough when he landed a very nice barracuda of about 30 lbs, caught on live bait.

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Livestock at an Orma village on the Tana Delta

One of the highlights of our stay at Delta Dunes was a visit to a nearby Orma village. It was a novel experience for several of us: enjoying sweet chai in one of the villagers’ homes is not something we do every day. We spent some time in the tiny school building, where a single teacher was doing his best with 40 children in two groups. The number of very young children was noticeable: one of the young mothers was only 22, but had already had five children.

We were thrilled to observe a group of Orma women dancing, their colorful native dress making it quite a spectacle. Soon enough one of the members of our group, Sheena, was right in there too dancing with them, a beautiful smile lighting up her face.

We came away from the village visit with a very good feeling. Despite the obvious hardship and signs of poverty, all the children were happy and seemingly content. We never felt uncomfortable or patronizing – and it was in every way a very authentic, honest experience.

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All the village children were keen to pose for the camera

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Big smiles all round

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An Orma family group

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Future cattle owner, Tana Delta Kenya

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Inside the one-room schoolhouse building, the teacher was working on some basic math

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On a fresh water Tana River trip, I saw hundreds of crocodiles. They were on the banks, in the water, everywhere. This is a highly recommended outing for anyone wanting to see crocodiles and hippo

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There were tiny crocodiles, intermediate ones and massive ones

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Mostly though I was trying to get some photographs of birds in flight

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Some of the birds, like these Yellowbilled Storks, were rather far away

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Even so they look so much better in flight than when sitting down

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Superficially the African Skimmer looks a lot like the Black Skimmer of North America

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And the African Fish Eagle looks a lot like the Bald Eagle

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Pied Kingfishers are not difficult to photograph when they are perched. Not very exciting either

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Much more fun trying to get them in focus while in flight

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I was particularly pleased with my tern photograph. Nice wing angle!

On our last day in the Delta, I edited a few photographs and then went for a 5-mile run at a nice pace along the Indian Ocean shoreline with the tide coming in. Definitely a rave run! We enjoyed a great brunch at 1000A including fresh fruit, porridge, sweet rolls, muesli, toast, and for the omnivores eggs to order with sausage, bacon etc. If you could manage, there were some beans and a mixed green salad as well.

That afternoon, we took a 45-minute flight from Malindi to Nairobi. That was after some shopping in Malindi (Shakir’s in old town is a good spot for kikois and kangas) and a light lunch at an Italian restaurant. We arrived in Nairobi at 17h45 and got stuck in some horrendous traffic, finally getting to our hotel – the Tribe – after 90 minutes of frustration. The Tribe is an impressive ultra-modern hotel near the United Nations headquarters and the large US Embassy. The room wasn’t huge but perfectly good with a shower, climate control, multi-channel HD TV and wireless internet.

A little later that evening, we enjoyed a superb dinner at the Lord Errol restaurant, where we thanked our hosts Liberty Africa, said our goodbyes and started thinking about going home, or going on to other parts of East Africa. The next day I would be heading up to Samburu in northern Kenya for the first time.

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14 October 2010

I was up before 0530 this morning to check and respond to e-mails. As a result, no time for breakfast before having to head out to Wilson Airport to catch a Safarilink Cessna Caravan (just two passengers) via Nanyuki (40 minutes) to Samburu (20 minutes).

My room at Elephant Bedroom Camp on the banks of the Uaso Nyiro River was large and comfortable, and I quite enjoyed the lounge and dining area which also overlooked the river. The area was extremely dry with several dead cows to be seen all around, as well as other dead mammals including the hardy Impala.

On the afternoon game drive, we saw large numbers of Reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, Beisa Oryx, plenty of the fascinating gerenuk, impala, many dik-dik, a few elephant, and a couple of female lions. Despite the drought, the area was very productive.

Lunch on this day was most enjoyable – a pasta stirfry and salad, with fresh fruit salad for dessert. Dinner later on was perfect: ugali (the local maize polenta) with spinach, onion soup, and peach fritters.

My tent at Elephant Bedroom Camp on the banks of the Uaso Nyiro River in Samburu National Park

Interior of the room at Elephant Bedroom Camp, Samburu

Another part of the room. I never got to sit on the couch – but I did use the desk

Unlike years of average rainfall, Samburu was almost devoid of elephants. We found this solitary one wandering around the Uaso Nyiro River

Of course Samburu is famous for its endemic mammals, including the superb Reticulated Giraffe. This is the original oil painting – the Plains (southern) Giraffe is the watercolor

There were Reticulated Giraffes all over Samburu

This was the conclusion of a really amazing giraffe sighting when we followed a group of almost 30 giraffes including several youngsters. There are few sights quite as striking as a large group of Reticulated giraffe against the backdrop of the sun setting over the mountains.

Another endemic is the handsome Beisa Oryx

Perfectly adapted for this arid region, the oryx all appeared to be in pretty good shape, especially when compared with the buffalo and other mammal species suffering from the drought

The Kori Bustard is found all over Africa and is not endemic to Samburu. Doesn’t make it any less special of a bird though

The gerenuk is a rather odd antelope, especially when it adopts this typical feeding posture

It gets right up there

There were hundreds of dik-diks all over the Samburu area. Literally everywhere

While I was in the Samburu area, it started to rain heavily and the Uaso Nyiro River came down in a flood

At first it was just some light rain on the afternoon we arrived, but by evening heavy thunderstorms were rolling in. Eventually the area was totally soaked and as a result of similar rain falling elsewhere in the catchment area of the Uaso Nyiro River, it started to run very strongly. Amazingly, we could see the area becoming green just 2 days later; we were told that it gets noticeably green just 3 days after significant rain.

The rain and resulting flooding of the river was quite spectacular and it made everybody happy

An immature Bateleur pretending to be an owl

A Tawny Eagle at Samburu

The Vulturine Guineafowls are abundant in Samburu. I definitely need to get some better photographs of them the next time!

Yet another Samburu endemic is the striking Grevy’s Zebra. Their thin stripes and the absence of a ‘shadow’ effect give them a particularly elegant appearance.

The very morning after the first rains of the season had fallen, the game started to disperse and all the endemics which had been bunched together the previous day along the river, seemed to have disappeared. Our morning game drive started very very slowly but improved with a couple of good buffalo and elephant sightings, and a far-off (across the river) sighting of a cheetah. Ten minutes or so later, we came upon a couple of stationary minibuses observing a leopard in a tree. As we approached the scene, the leopard clambered down and walked to a nearby bush where it had left its impala kill.

The leopard then proceeded to wrestle and drag the dead impala a good 30 to 40 meters along the ground, disappearing into a gully. I fired off a quick few pics with mixed results, even so I was happy to be able to tick off leopard on my trip mammal list. Then it was back to the lodge for breakfast. With just two guests that morning, breakfast was a la carte and quite enjoyable. I had a fresh fruit platter, vegan pancakes with syrup, and a mixed plate with baked beans on toast, grilled tomato and sauteed potatoes. Nobody ever goes hungry on safari!

I did get some pretty good views of a cheetah. Due to their habitat preference (open areas) and hunting habits (diurnal) they are usually fairly easily seen when present

This one made no secret of its presence

There were many species of birds in and around the campsite at Elephant Bedroom Camp, some trying to snatch your food off your plate! Others, like this woodhoopoe, was content to look for its own source of food

Vervet monkeys are plentiful all over Kenya and Samburu is certainly no exception

The spectacular Superb Starling is very common in Samburu

I loved the ‘big sky’ feel of the Samburu area, very much out of Africa

The mountains and hazy sky adds to the scenic appeal of the area

These two Olive Baboons were feeding on Doum Palm nuts, very high up in the massive palm tree.

While down below the rest of their troop plus a solitary elephant was scavenging around for dropped palm nuts and other edible bits

Samburu is known for some pretty reliable leopard sightings and it did not disappoint, this particular leopard had just jumped down from a tree and was on its way to drag its prey into a nearby donga.

While in the area, I spent a night at Intrepids Samburu Camp. This is a fairly large camp with 28 rooms, 14 on each side of the main lodge. I found the camp to be very comfortable and would really have liked to spend more time there. The tents are well-equipped with adequate lighting, seating, a separate toilet with door and a large shower. This is ‘luxury camping’ for sure. All the rooms have river views and there are few if any steps. Beds are of the 4-post type with effective mosquito netting, although there were no mosquitoes to speak of.

The food and catering at Samburu Intrepids was amongst the best of any of the camps on my trip. Dinner one evening was really fun in the company of a couple of Canadian ladies (Marly and Erica) and Jenny from Sydney, Australia. As is customary on safari, we talked about what we had each experienced thus far, and amongst others there was a rave review of Singita and a not-so-great report about the food at Chobe Game Lodge. My dinner entree of risotto with a tomato-based sauce was excellent, as was the butternut squash starter and fresh fruit dessert.

By 1140A on 16 October I was on my way back to Nairobi, to meet my Origins Safaris guide for a road trip to the Lake Nakuru area, in the heart of Kenya’s Rift Valley.

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Oct 16 2009

There was a light drizzle when my Origins Safaris guide Stanley Kariithi and I got underway on the 2hr+ road trip to Lake Naivasha. The Nairobi-Nakuru highway is generally in excellent condition, the same however cannot be said of the road behavior. Stanley displayed immense patience with the reckless driving of the matatu drivers who passed other vehicles with seemingly no regard for their own or their passengers’ safety.

This is one of the reasons why we don’t recommend road trips and more specifically, self-driving. Even so, due to the good condition of the road, this particular trip is manageable and I certainly enjoyed some beautiful vistas over parts of the Rift Valley, en route. It was also an interesting experience to observe the terrain and activities along the roadway. Just outside of Nairobi there are roadside stalls selling everything under the sun, from cooked food to live chickens, furniture and clothing.

My Origins guide Stanley and I had lunch at the Karen Country Lodge en route to the Rift Valley

Although service was slow, I quite liked the nice decorative touches. The vegetable curry dish was pretty good too

Another example of the interesting interior decorating at the Karen Country Lodge

By late afternoon, we arrived at Loldia House, a well-known guest house dating back to the 1920’s. The setting and the grounds, with stunning views over Lake Naivasha, are superb. Right around the lodge there are some massive trees and the birdlife is excellent. I was also surprised to see a variety of mammals in close proximity to the lodge, including wildebeest, zebra and lots of buffalo.

A young English couple enjoying a drink in front of the fireplace at Loldia House

Breakfast is often served outside at Loldia House

Fresh fruit was served with practically every meal I had in more than 2 weeks in Kenya, it was particularly fresh and flavorful at Loldia

The view over Lake Naivasha from the family cottage at Loldia House

Interior of one of the rooms at Loldia House

One of the cottage bedrooms

My room (#1) at Loldia House, in the main original house, has excellent views over the gardens and the lake itself. However the room and especially the bathroom (which has a bath and shower) can do with an update and refurbishment. I was very happy to find a wireless internet connection in my room and spent a couple of hours later that night updating e-mail.

Dinner was at the large table in the dining room, with Loldia House Manager Peter Njoroge serving as the host. Peter was very gracious and personable, not to mention witty! It wasn’t long before he was teaching me several new Swahili words and phrases. My main course was wholesome and filling, but really nothing special – a mix of some vegetables and rice. The appetizer was a much more interesting vegetarian ‘cutlet’ which was very tasty. Dessert consisted of fresh fruit, amongst the best of any I had experienced on the Kenya trip to date.

October 17 2009

I was up fairly early for a 4-mile run with Bernard, one of the Loldia personnel, all along the perimeter of the game area. It was quite hilly and fairly strenuous, but I enjoyed every second which we spent on the trail. After all, I was running in the Rift Valley, the birthplace of most of Kenya’s famous long-distance runners!

Then it was time for breakfast, which consisted of more fruit, some toast, pancakes and porridge, known as uji in Swahili. Thanks, Peter! Peter then showed me around the rest of the Loldia House property, consisting of several separate cottages and a family house with 3 rooms, 2 of which have en suite bathrooms. It is ideal for a family or two couples traveling together.

Stanley and I then set off by road for the 2hr drive to Lake Nakuru, where I would overnight at Mbweha Camp, a lodge consisting of a large thatched lounge, bar and dining area with a central fireplace and 10 rustic thatched rock cabins with en suite shower and toilet and solar lighting.

The lodge lounge and dining room area is quite nice, just a little ‘smoky’ because of the indoor fireplace. The food was good and varied, if somewhat ambitious at times.

October 18 2009

There was no water in the faucets or shower in my room this morning. The previous night I had found out that there was no bedside lamp or light switch in the room. Very annoying to have to get up and switch off the light just when you’re dozing off… I am not wildly enthusiastic about this camp but my stay was so short, it is really unfair to judge it. Compared with some other Lake Nakuru accommodation options, it is quite small with a high level of personal service which is always a big plus in my book. The property just needs a little bit more ‘polish’. I think two nights there would be good in order to take a couple of game drives into Lake Nakuru National Park and to enjoy some of the other lodge activities such as a night drive and walking.

The lounge and bar at Mbweha Lodge near Lake Nakuru

Interior of my room at Mbhewa Lodge

A black and white Colobus monkey at Lake Nakuru National Park

Lake Nakuru National Park is well-known for its rhino, and within minutes of entering the park we spotted this white rhino not far from the shoreline

During an afternoon drive into Lake Nakuru National Park, we did a site inspection of Sarova Lion Hill Lodge. This very large (100+ rooms) but well managed facility offers comfortable accommodation in an excellent location overlooking the lake. All meals are buffet-style with an extensive menu including several vegetarian options. The standard rooms are on the small side but adequate for a couple. The suites are much more spacious and certainly a recommended choice.

A portion of the dining room at Lion Hill Lodge

The large pool at Sarova Lion Hill Lodge

Interior of a standard room at Lion Hill Lodge

On a game drive along the shores of Lake Nakuru this afternoon, we saw lots of buffalo, plains zebra, impala, Thomson’s Gazelles, Defassa Waterbuck, warthhog and notably several white rhino, also 4 black and white Colobus monkeys, a life mammal for yours truly. We had some good views of a few Rothschild’s Giraffe, which was also a life mammal! Nice going.

There was buffalo all around Lake Nakuru including several fairly large groups of up to 40 or so, with many youngsters

On October 19 (morning) we took another game drive to Lake Nakuru. In the early morning the light is better for photographs of the thousands of Lesser and Greater Flamingo for which the lake is famous. There was a good concentration of several thousand birds in the South-eastern corner of the lake, and I made quite a few exposures. Like the previous day, we saw lots of buffalo and other wildlife and several white rhino, one with a very young calf.

Flamingoes at Lake Nakuru

Appropriately, this white rhino was waiting for us at Rhino Point on Lake Nakuru

A new life mammal was this striking Rothschild’s Giraffe, seen walking in a wooded portion of Lake Nakuru National Park

There were some interesting birds around Lake Nakuru as well, including this Secretarybird, third one of the trip…

By midday on Oct 19 we drove back to Loldia House/Naivasha airstrip, where I said goodbye to Stanley. He was an ideal guide: knowledgeable, friendly and a professional through and through. It is good to know that my Origins Safaris clients are in the hands of people like Stanley Kariithi and his colleagues.

Soon enough we were airborne and embarking on the last leg of this great African adventure. I would be returning to the Maasai for two more days!

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I arrived at Kwara Camp in the Okavango Delta on Thursday December 3 2009 in an impressive thunderstorm. It reminded me of my first ever visit to Botswana in February 1990 when we landed in Maun just minutes before a massive thunderstorm briefly closed the (then) tiny airport. Maun has changed a lot since then. It is considerably bigger, as is the airport itself. Alas the quaint Duck Inn pub/bar which was a fixture right by the airport, is no more. I spent several hours there on my first day ever in Botswana, gawking at the parade of safari guides, hunters, tour operators, tourists, pilots, and assorted crusty characters hanging out at the bar. Maun is probably no less interesting now than then. Just a bit bigger and a lot busier. It is still a frontier town, but you can buy fresh herbs in the grocery stores. The roads are still dusty, but your Blackberry will work – if you have international roaming of course. This time around, there was no time to mix with the locals – we had a plane to catch. Having completed a minimum of formalities (flight vouchers issued on the spot) we were escorted to a waiting Cessna Caravan, climbed up the narrow rickety steps in the back and strapped ourselves in. Then it was full throttle, flaps down and blood pressure up (just a little!). Compared with the bush strips the runway at Maun is gigantic, so no sweat to take off from here.

The pleasant low level flight from Maun to Kwara took less than 30 minutes, and like most flights within the Delta, it was quite scenic (elephants on the left!) and interesting. Once on the ground at the airstrip, an approaching thunder storm which we had first noticed on approach, was all too visible. We quickly donned raincoat ponchos and set off down the sandy track for the bouncy trip to camp. We made it just in time. As we dashed into the lounge, a heavy storm lashed the camp, driving the rain sideways into the front of camp. Our small group of 6 huddled in a dry corner of the lounge, wondering how long this was going to last. Like most summer storms, it was impressive with heavy rain, wind and thunder but it blew through quickly. Soon enough, patches of blue sky started to appear on the horizon. As the staff scrambled to undo some havoc caused by the rain in the rooms, we enjoyed a cup of tea.

Before the fun could start, we had to sign a waiver and listen to the camp briefing. Stay in your room at night, don’t walk between the lounge and your room unescorted at night, and don’t use the emergency air horn to order a gin and tonic! Minutes later, I was settled into my room, a Meru style tented room on a raised platform with en suite toilet and outside shower. Like the others at Kwara, the room had a very nice view over a small lake in front of camp and some woodland behind and to the sides. The lake, as we were soon to find out, was home to some 80 hippo. While we never saw more than 20 or so at any one time, that was plenty and they certainly kicked up a ruckus at night. Waking up in the dead of night a day or so later, I observed three hippos grazing on the vegetation just meters in front of my tent. As they said in the camp briefing, don’t go walkabout at night…

I found Kwara to be a very relaxed, comfortable camp with above-average game-viewing (for an Okavango Delta Camp), excellent staff and management, and nicely varied activities including twice daily game drives and boating. The rooms are nothing special though. They are on the small side and could do with a fan, better lighting, and somewhere to sit other than on the bed or the two chairs on the small verandah.There were a couple of other minor issues such as a broken toilet seat and a balky shower door. None of this affected our enjoyment of the camp.

I very much liked the lounge, particularly the area looking out over the boma (outdoor fireplace area with camp stools) and beyond that, the lake. I spent the better part of the siesta break there one afternoon catching up on my trip report, chatting with a couple of other guests.We agreed that if our offices could have a setting like that, we might never go home. The covered dining room at Kwara is separated from the lounge area by a bar area and partition; if the camp were to be reconstructed or upgraded at some stage I imagine that the dining area would not be so distinctly separate a room.

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Interior of our tent at Kwara

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Part of the bathroom at Kwara; the tilted mirror is a nice touch

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Tent #7 at Kwara

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Partial view of the lounge at Kwara

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My favorite spot in the lounge, overlooking the fireplace

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The dining room at Kwara

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The bar which separates the lounge and dining room

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Breakfast at Kwara

Quickly falling into the safari camp routine, we met for tea at 1600. We were greeted with an excellent array of snacks and other items including a veggie roll, fresh fruit and a cake. Not to mention lemonade, iced ginger tea and your choice of regular Five Roses, rooibos or other herbal teas and of course coffee. Over the next few days I would find out that the catering at Kwara is of a very high standard. The food was consistently good and certainly more than ample. My vegetarian/vegan special diet was happily accommodated and other than for a lack of soy milk I couldn’t fault it. Like practically everywhere else in Botswana,Zambia and even in Kenya and Tanzania, morning porridge at Kwara is usually made with milk instead of water, but by the second day there was a ‘no milk’ porridge available. I was not the only one who preferred it over the ‘traditional’ version. The important thing with dietary needs and preferences is just to let the camps know in good time. The more details you provide, the better. For example, instead of just stating that you are on a gluten-free diet, specify what you can eat, such as corn, potatoes, rice, millet, quinoa, sweet potato, yam, beans, soybeans, chickpeas, buckwheat etc.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

One of the lechwe which are often to be seen right in front of camp

Our afternoon game drive started out rather slowly but became quite spectacular when we successfully tracked and found a pack of 5 wild dogs passing through the area. This particular group (the alpha female had a dilapidated tracking collar around her neck) was apparently not well known in the Kwara area. They seemed to be searching for something, or possibly unsure of themselves, sniffing the air and fairly rapidly moving from one area to the next. We followed them for quite a distance, pulling ahead for an occasional photographic opportunity. Eventually the dogs tired a bit and lingered along the road, playing and making contact sounds. Just before they disappeared, the late afternoon light which had been pretty marginal from the get-go, improved briefly and we were able to capture a few really nice images. It was a magical experience. I had not bumped into wild dogs over the course of my last four entire trips to Africa. Little was I to know that this was to be the first of four different wild dog sightings over the next 10 days.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Wild dogs near Kwara

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

December 4

Up early at 0530, followed by a light breakfast around the campfire (fruit, porridge, muffins, tea/coffee) and eventually departing on a game drive at about 0630. Not far out of camp, we had some good views of a Black Coucal, a much sought after bird species in Southern Africa. It was the first of many exciting birding opportunities on this day. The most striking of these was watching two huge Spurwinged Geese pursuing each other in a circle around the vehicle. There’s very little to no ambient noise out in the bush so the swishing sound of air rushing through their feathers was incredibly loud. As the two powerful dueling geese passed low over our vehicle, it reminded me of two jets flying over a stadium at a sporting event. There was no cheering crowd, just five of us staring at them from a small vehicle in the massive arena of nature.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Black coucal near Kwara Camp

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Yellowbilled kite

The objective of this morning’s game drive was to find some cheetah and at the end of a fairly long and bumpy drive, the mission was accomplished. We came upon three magnificent cheetahs resting up on the side of an anthill, in the shade. They momentarily lifted their heads and looked at us in what can only be described as an uninterested manner, and then went back to their nap. We took our time observing them, marveling at the gorgeous coloration and the impressive size and sleekness of these highly endangered creatures. What a privilege it is to see them out there, a truly unforgettable sight. Being diurnal cheetah hunt during the cooler hours of the day, but judging by their extended bellies, the three brothers we were observing had seemingly already had their fill for the day. Also it was getting warm by now so we took a last, long look at their permanently tear-marked faces, and started to head back to camp. 

En route to this spot and on the way back, we came upon a wide array of general plains game, including giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, tsessebe, warthog, impala, kudu and lechwe.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

One of the three cheetah brothers

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Looking for some protection from the sun and heat

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Some plains (Burchell’s) zebra

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

A tsessebe on the run

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

A young reedbuck

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

A warthog family

After brunch and a refreshing nap, we took off by vehicle to a spot alongside an Okavango Delta channel, quite close (15 minutes or so) to camp. En route we had some good elephant sightings, including one bull which gave us quite a warning display and who was not at all impressed with us being there. At the jetty, we boarded a 10-seater aluminum double-decker skiff and set off along a winding waterway. I don’t think I will ever tire of boat trips on the Okavango Delta. Despite the noise of the outboard motor, it is a serene experience, gliding smoothly along the channel as it unwinds in front of you, mostly narrow and enclosed but often opening up into beautiful lagoons, passing by reedbeds, large stands of ferns, and in this instance, eventually some impressive papyrus groves. We all marveled at the pristine quality of the watery environment in which we found ourselves. Invariably, it evokes thoughts and conversation about the sorry degraded state of so many other similar habitats elsewhere in the world. After about 20 minutes or so, we reached the Godikwe heronry. There were several species with chicks on the nest including marabou stork, yellowbilled stork, African darter and cattle egret and various other birds coming and going including sacred ibis and openbilled stork. Very impressive, especially when viewed from the upper deck of the boat.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Dirt bath time

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

The elephant was not too happy to see us

We enjoyed sundowners in a glorious spot with the sounds and activity of the heronry right alongside, while the sun and the light were slowly slipping away behind us, towards the west. It was fascinating to listen to the busy noises of the roosting birds communicating with each other and their offspring. Hardly mellifluous – contrary to woodland species most water birds emit mostly squawks and guttural croaks – but certainly not discordant in this setting. The noise emanating from a nearby boat with some French tourists was the only harsh thing we heard all day. Keep it down people. Due to cloud cover the light was far from ideal but I took several photographs, and a few of these turned out well enough I thought.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Yellow-billed stork in breeding plumage

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Cattle egret in breeding plumage

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Cattle egret descending onto a roosting spot

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Sunset over Godikwe Lagoon

December 5

Two rather quiet game drives on this day, morning and afternoon, to the Four rivers area. We saw a fair amount of general game and I managed a few decent photographs of birds in flight. I particularly enjoyed the good views of some Tsessebe with young. During the afternoon tea break we marveled at the antics of a particularly cranky hippo, the sole inhabitant of a small waterhole. He did not enjoy anybody approaching even remotely close to the edge of the water, jumping with fury and showing off his size and potent teeth protruding from his gaping jaws.At one stage he just about cleared the pond, rushing out towards Steve who had wandered to a nearby termite mound on the edge of the waterhole. What a performance!

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

A couple of grey go-away birds

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Impala with young

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

A young bateleur eagle

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Whitefaced duck at a waterhole

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

An African Fish Eagle

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

A wooly-necked stork

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

A lilacbreasted roller. I struggled mightily to get a good photograph of one of them in flight

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

This is the cranky hippo which tried to take Steve out

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Sundowners at Four Rivers – note angry hippo in background…

We enjoyed a particularly nice dinner this evening with pap (local version of polenta), stuffed butternut squash and zucchini. The omnivores enjoyed a starter of corn fritter, and what looked like a hearty beef stew.

December 6

As always on a summer trip to Botswana, we were up early this morning, which was overcast and rather cool compared with the previous day. After the customary early breakfast, we got back into the boat for a short trip along the channel for some fishing. Kathleen and I struck out on the fishing but not everybody else did, and collectively our party caught several fair sized bream and one good sized barbel (catfish). It was a fun and relaxing outing. Brunch consisted of vegetable spring rolls, salad, fresh fruit and freshly baked bread. The bread at Kwara is outstanding!

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Very fresh fish for brunch!

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

There were lots of carmine bee-eaters in the area

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

A grey hornbill nesting site near the channel in the Okavango Delta at Kwara

The afternoon game drive was one of the best so far on the trip. We enjoyed excellent views of a group of about 12 giraffes, as well as several huge elephant bulls. The highlight of the day was a sighting of 3 female lions, with incredibly close up views of a one-eyed female devouring what was left of a warthog which she and her daughter and grand-daughter had just recently caught. We were sitting close enough to the lions to hear their rasping breath, and to study the rather weather-beaten face of the older lioness. It was a road map to the toughness of survival in the wilderness. I am sure we were all wondering how she had lost the other eye and acquired her many other scars, not to mention the torn nostrils. People who ‘hunt’ for food in well-stocked grocery aisles clearly have no concept of the day to day struggle for survival these predators have to deal with. One look at this lion speaks volumes though. It is a tough life out there! She was very amiable nonetheless, showing no sign of stress or anxiety despite the vehicle being just meters from her. We enjoyed our sundowners a little further down the sandy track but literally within sight of the lion, who was resting up just a few hundred meters from us. How cool is that! What a brilliant day – it is why we keep returning to places like these and why we have always been and remain so enthusiastic about Botswana as terrific safari destination any time of the year.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Giraffe are easy to see and they make good photographic subjects. As a result I sometimes take too many photographs of them…

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

‘One-eye’ the lioness – one tough cookie!

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

‘One-eye’ walking past our car

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

One of her descendants

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Sunset near Kwara

December 7

Another fantastic day in Botswana. Up very early at 0500, on yet another rather cloudy and cool morning. Breakfast as usual around the fireplace, with oats, fresh fruit and rooibos tea. This morning we set out on an expedition to find the pride of (seven) male lions, but met with little success. We initially heard them calling in the far distance, but driving through spectacular woodland and along marshy areas, they were nowhere to be found. We did find several other things of interest though, including a new bird species for our guide Steve, a Blacktailed Godwit.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Blackbellied Korhaan. We witnessed its territorial display and call from close up

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

One of many yellowbilled kites in the area

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

A nice group of female kudu

En route to the Four Rivers area, we made what appeared to be a routine river crossing but which turned interesting very quickly. The vehicle was nearly drowned when it suddenly got deeper and then deeper still, with water flooding the floorboards. Steve ending up sitting in a puddle of water as water literally spurted into the front seating area. As we were crossing the river, the vehicle slowed down to a steady rumble. The four of us in the back were riveted, literally holding our breaths as we saw the water level rising around us, steam escaping from the engine compartment, and large bubbles of exhaust fumes breaking the surfaces immediately behind us. An inquisitive or perhaps startled hippopotamus appeared on the scene, approaching the jeep fairly rapidly from our right. Just as well that we didn’t stall out – the hippo crossed right behind us and moved off into the distance. Whew!

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

About to enter deeper water than we anticipated…

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

The hippo crossing behind us

Tea was enjoyed at a small waterhole at Four Rivers, where we watched several hippo who had apparently displaced or joined the solitary and rather cranky individual from the previous day (the one who chased Steve). We then started to slowly wind our way back along the sandy path, the vegetation changing all the time from acacia thornveld, to Kalahari appleleaf, then mopane woodland, sometimes a mix. Every now and then we would drive by a small waterhole with anything from a solitary hamerkop to a collection of whitefaced ducks, blacksmith plovers, spurwinged geese, comb and other ducks, jacana, ruff and many other bird species.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Hippo at the Four Rivers waterhole

As we turned a corner in the road, Steve yelled ‘dogs’ and there they were, another small group of 5 – all female – wild dogs right by the side of the road. They were feeding on what remained of a small impala.One of the dogs, a rather badly wounded female with what looked like a broken left rear leg, was trying to hoard the last substantial piece but it was quickly grabbed by several of the other dogs, despite loud yelps of protest. Soon enough, the dogs started to trot away through the woodland and we promptly followed them, charging around and sometimes through small trees, over dead logs, bouncing headlong through the woodland, every now and then catching up with the dogs for a few quick photographs before they disappeared into the bush.

Eventually, the pack reached a small waterhole where they dashed right into the water to cool off and have a drink, proceeding to lie down and relax on the periphery of the waterhole, where we eventually left them behind. Quite a morning!

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Upon first seeing the wild dogs we noticed that they were still feeding on the remains of an impala

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Soon afterward, they flopped into a waterhole

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

A few of the dogs started to play and mock fight

The afternoon game drive was equally interesting. Steve had intended to go back to the cheetah sighting of a few days ago, but we bumped into the three female lions (headed up by the older lioness known as One-eye) and spent quite a bit of time with them, as they lounged around the edge of a marsh, taking a snooze or just strolling around. By the time we were ready for sundowners, a report came in of a sighting of 5 male lions, and off we went along one of the sandy tracks, in search of more lions. It didn’t take long to find them: there were two parties of very impressive maned lions, sitting or lying in the grass, their eyes reflecting the harsh light of the spotlight. After a fairly long wait, two members of the coalition started to roar in a duet of sorts. If this were an opera house, they would literally have brought the house down. The sound of lions roaring like that right in front of you is both incredibly loud and hugely impressive. There is simply no other natural statement of power and majesty that comes close to what he heard that evening from those two kings of the jungle. The sound literally reverberates in one’s chest and no person can come away from that unchanged.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

‘One-eye’s’ daughter

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

With her own daughter, trying to locate ‘One-eye’ who was slowly walking towards them

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

One of the impressive male lions which we saw on the night drive

Reluctantly, we left the lions ahead and headed back to camp, but the night was not over yet. We were treated to some spectacular views of a serval cat, hunting for rodents as well as birds, hares, insects, even frogs and reptiles in the grass. This beautiful and graceful animal with its sleek long body and long ears is perfectly adapted for its nocturnal environment. Servals are apparently some of the most successful hunters of any of the cats, being successful about 50% of the time, and even higher at night. Happily, we were 100% successful at hunting for our dinner a little bit later, back in camp. 

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Photography and report by Bert Duplessis

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african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

December 7 2009

Lions were roaring intermittently throughout the night at Kwara, and this morning they were found not too far away. Lions + hippo + assorted other night sounds = not too much sleep. Thank goodness for the siesta time! Kathleen and went across to Little Kwara on an inspection visit and found it to be a perfectly delightful spot. Little Kwara is an intimate camp sleeping only 10 persons in 5 elevated rooms. The rooms are very large with massive bathrooms, his and hers wash basins, a great verandah facing out over the floodplain, a fan and bath and double outside showers. All in all a very impressive camp, enhanced by an excellent common area with a nicely integrated dining room, lounge, bar and adjacent pool.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

A room at Little Kwara

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Part of the bathroom at Little Kwara

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Part of the dining room at Little Kwara

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Deck and pool at Little Kwara

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Little Kwara Lounge

At 1145 on the dot, we said our reluctant goodbyes at Kwara, to the sound and song and dance of several of the staff members, whom we had genuinely come to like and respect. Off we went on a 35 minute flight in a Caravan to Lebala Camp in the Kwando Concession. The camp was just a short ride from the airstrip, and once again we arrived in the midst of a thunderstorm. We were promptly shown to room 4 which was very similar to the rooms at Little Kwara. Quite luxurious with a large double bed & lounge area with two comfortable chairs. The room also sported a side table, a large vanity doubling as a desk with chair, and a huge big bathroom with separate toilet, foot and claw bath, and double outside showers. My only complaint?We could hear everything that was going on in the tent next to us.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

A sendoff from the wonderful staff at Kwara

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

They sent us on our way with some spirited singing and dancing

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Nicely decorated double bed at Lebala

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Portion of the bedroom

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Partial view of the bathroom at Lebala

That afternoon, we took off with our guide Spencer on an uneventful drive with good birding including 2 painted snipes, and several other species new to the trip list. We also enjoyed some good sightings of elephant, kudu, zebra and other general game. All in all, Lebala gets high marks for the rooms but the food was not quite up to the high standard set at Kwara. Perhaps it is best to be an omnivore and not a vegetarian at this camp. For someone who does not eat eggs, meat or cheese, brunch in particular was very disappointing, basically toast with baked beans, some mushrooms and fried tomato, every day. Fortunately there is also a selection of cereals including a pretty good muesli. Somehow none of the Kwando camps managed to procure soy milk which I found to be odd as it is readily available in Maun. To their credit, Lebala did prepare (from the second day onwards) a separate pot of porridge cooked without milk, in the mornings, as well as muffins without milk or butter. Their afternoon teas were excellent (better than either of the other camps) with one meat and one vegetable dish, an ample selection of fresh fruit, a cake of some sorts, and other items like bottled peppers and olives.

December 9

I randomly picked this day for a ‘minute by minute’ account of a typical game drive in Botswana. It ended up not being quite typical – due to the wild dog sighting – but otherwise I think it is fairly representative of a good morning game drive. Some will be quieter than this and some might be a bit more exciting, maybe with another predator species thrown in.

We started off from Lebala Camp right at 0600. It was a cloudless morning, cool until about 0900A and then a scorcher until about 1500 when a large thunderstorm rolled through the area. In the vehicle were our guide Spencer, our tracker P.D., Kathleen and myself and two Danish guests Paul and Kirsten.

00:1:00 A juvenile kudu chewing on a wild cucumber, rolling it in its mouth, the white ‘lip gloss’ and white chin clearly visible. What massive ears! We spent several minutes with the kudus (several more emerged from the bush).

00:5:43: A Blackshouldered Kite.

00:8:00: Six Egyptian Geese at a water hole; we witness a very intense squabble between two males, with lots of wing-flapping and chest-bumping, and even more noise. Soon enough one of them gave way and the victor strutted around for a bit to show everyone who’s the boss.

00:10:00: Three Wattled Crane including one sub-adult, very close. Magnificent birds with elegant tails.

00:14:30: A massive hippo re-entering a waterhole. A family of Egyptian Geese with 8 ducklings.

00:16:00: Yellowbilled Storks and a pair of Namaqua Doves.

00:18:00: A solitary Hooded Vulture right at the top of a tree. Several Redbilled and Yellowbilled Hornbills, a flock of Helmeted Guineafowl.

00:19:49: A Redcrested Korhaan fly-by.

00:25:00: Ten Impala antelope and some warthogs.

00:26:19: Four giraffe at a distance.

00:27:00: A small group of Burchell’s Zebra

00:28:41: An impressive Kori Bustard, the world’s largest flying bird.

00:41:15: A juvenile Bateleur Eagle impersonating an owl, turning its head 360 degrees to look back at us.

00:46:00: A couple of Temmincks’ Coursers, a new bird for the trip list.

00:50:26: A Tawny Eagle, first of many for the day.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

00:56:00: 20 adult and 11 young Blue Wildebeest grazing with lots of Cattle Egrets following them around. A peaceful, almost pastoral setting.

01:00: Three ground hornbills in a tree. Massive birds.

01:03: A dainty Steenbok female in the grass close to the vehicle; a first for the trip.

01:07: An African Fish Eagle, Hamerkop, and a Little Egret.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

01:16: A solitary hippo in a small waterhole, with a Hamerkop using the hippo as a mobile fishing platform.

01:17: A Giant Eagle Owl in a tree, at a distance.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

01:22: A very nice mature kudu bull with massive spiraled horns.

01:29: A Sacred Ibis

01:30: We make a comfort stop, aka a bush break, pit stop, or checking the tires.

01:38: Two breeding herds; one of about 20 Blue Wildebeest and the other about 30 Impala. Both herds sport several youngsters, small but already firmly implanted with what makes up their species characteristics. Tiny impala darting off and making elegant leaps just like the adults. Tiny wildebeest just slightly less homely looking than their parents.

01:40: A duo of Wahlberg’s Eagle, adults feeding young.

1:45: Greenbacked Heron at a pond.

01:48: A pair of Pygmy Geese in the same pond, first just one and then 5 altogether. Once seen, these compact, colorful ducks are unmistakable.

01:57: African Fish Eagle and Saddlebilled Stork, one of the most striking birds in Africa.

02:09: Three young Kudu bulls.

02:16: Two secretary birds on a nest in distance.

02:30: Two large adult kudu bulls close up.

02:32: We stop for morning tea. Redbilled teal at the waterhole. A solitary Wattled Crane. Tea, coffee and some snacks (rusks and cookies) are served.

02:40: During the tea break, I notice one and then several wild dogs running out of the woodland towards the water. The wild dogs have found us! We spend the next hour in their company. There are six in total.

03:40: Still following the six wild dogs, now resting up in a grove of Kalahari Appleleaf trees. There are 2 females and 4 males. Very handsome animals, quite oblivious to our presence. They engage in some horseplay, or perhaps more correctly canine capers. I shoot off about 200 mediocre shots of African wild dogs. A couple or so turn out ok.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

 

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

4:01: We say goodbye to the wild dogs and head off in the direction of camp. I spot a woodpecker back at the waterhole where the dogs found us.

4:06: Bateleur Eagle, Tawny Eagle. We would have repeated sightings of both of these birds of prey during our stay at Lebala.

4:09: Breeding herd of about 30 wildebeest with 15 young. Also 5 Burchells’s Zebra, one of which (a youngster) has 3 pretty bad lacerations on its flanks, apparently caused by a lion.

4:20: Breeding herd of about 60 elephants. We watch as they emerge from the woodland, feeding as they go. A very relaxed, peaceful scene. The elephants continue to feed as they move past us from our left to our right. We stay with the elephants for about 10 to 12 minutes, then head off back to camp for brunch.

4: 45: Burchells’s Sandgrouse, a new bird species for the trip list.

4:48: Leopard Tortoise, our token reptile for the day.

December 10

This morning we set off in the direction of Lagoon Camp, the purpose being to combine a road transfer (two Danish guests from Lebala to Lagoon) with a game drive. The morning started slowly but it wasn’t too long before we ran into several very nice herds of elephants. While looking for wild dogs, we first noticed some Yellowbilled Kites flying over one particular spot and then some vultures. And before we actually saw it, the smell hit us. “IT” was a dead elephant (apparently of natural causes) which was being fought over by two competing packs of hyena. There were probably 10 to 12 hyenas around, some with clearly distended bellies, having successfully gorged themselves on this bonanza. Later on one of the other cars would actually witness some sparring between the two competing clans. Thankfully we did not stick around too long: there are few things as pitiful and sad and upsetting a sight as a massively swollen dead elephant lying unceremoniously splayed out, several days dead. In the afternoon, we unsuccessfully tracked a leopard, following its tracks around and sometimes over a variety of trees, bushes and shrubs, from mopane to Kalahari apple leaf, Apparently we got very close, as the last sighting, just before we lost the light in the late afternoon, was where the leopard had spent quite a bit of time resting up. The tracks were very fresh. By then we were pretty beaten up from the jostling one takes especially in the back of the Uri game-viewing vehicle, so we were not entirely unhappy to let the leopard be and to stop for sundowners before making our way back to camp.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

A breeding herd of elephant at Lebala

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Yet another yellow-billed kite

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

And some zebra; we would see plenty more at Nxai Pan

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Tracking leopard at Lebala

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

One of the hyenas hanging out near the dead elephant

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Plenty more giraffe in the Lebala area

December 11

The morning game drive was initially a bit frustrating, as we were again unable to locate the wild dogs, whose tracks were all over the southern area of the concession. Even so, we were consoled by the sighting of two of the largest breeding herds of elephants we had seen on the trip yet. The first herd we saw as they came to a waterhole and it was – as always – most entertaining and enlightening to see them drink. They take in as much as 10 liters or more at a time, and the sound is not dissimilar to having a large bucket of water poured down the throat.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Impala with lots of youngsters

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Part of the breeding herd of elephants

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

One of a small group of roan antelope we saw at Lebala

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

I took several photographs of various individuals belonging to the breeding herd which came to a water hole at Lebala

On the way back to camp, we were alerted by radio that Thabo, one of the other guides, had found wild dogs at a waterhole. Arriving on the scene about 15 minutes later, we realized that this was yet another different pack, which now made it four different wild dog sightings over the space of just 9 days. This time, we were lucky to find a group of 12 dogs, consisting of 6 adults and 6 pups, about 1 year in age. Just like puppies would, they made mock charges on each other, frolicked around and played tug of war with a dried branch. We stayed with them for a good 15 minutes or so, shooting off multiple exposures, before winding back to camp for brunch. By 1130A we were packed and ready for departure. A short trip to the airstrip was followed by a 35-minute flight to Maun where we disembarked from the aging (1972 vintage) Islander. Pilot Dale told me that the aircraft undergoes a minor servicing every 50 hours and a major service every 100 hours. So despite its shabby interior and the fact that it was sorely in need of a paint job, the critical components of this workhouse were in good shape. It got us safely to Maun and then on to the airstrip at Nxai Pan National Park, where we would spend the last 4 days of our Botswana trip.

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One more group of wild dogs at Lebala

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african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

I was immediately impressed with the spacious and attractive lounge, dining room & bar area at Nxai Pan Camp, with the entire front part of the building open to the outside. The large thatched structure, made of an innovative Styrofoam wall, covered with chicken wire and cement on both sides, somehow fit in quite nicely in this wide open environment, with a 180 degree view over a grassy plain fringed by acacia and purple pod terminalia. The nine rooms (including a family room and pilot/guide room) were equally spacious with high ceilings and extensive views over the plains through three large screened sliding doors. Inside, each of the suites have a separate sitting area with two comfortable wicker chairs, a built-in desk and leather chair, indoor and outdoor shower, large bathroom with his and hers washbasins and a separate flush toilet. The big double bed faces the plains and every day we briefly watched the sun rising over the horizon before getting ready for the morning activity. On our first morning there was some cloud cover present, making for a rather brilliant sunrise. Unfortunately I missed the peak color by about 3 minutes…

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

A portion of our room at Nxai Pan Lodge

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

The view towards the bathroom

If there is any criticism of the rooms at Nxai Pan, it relates to the fact that the rooms, despite the seemingly well fitting screens in front, are not at all impervious to insects. On each night there, we were bothered by various small flying insects, mostly bugs and small beetles, which made reading before going to bed a rather tricky affair, trying to swat away insects and trying to prevent them from getting into bed with you. There were hardly any mosquitoes but that was small comfort. This problem can be taken care of by plugging up the two glaringly obvious gaps between the thatching and the walls. The door also does not fit well and should be adjusted. All in all I think mosquito nets would be a good idea, especially for the summer months.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Some of the rooms at Nxai Pan as seen from the front of the lodge

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

The main lodge at Nxai Pan

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

The pool at Nxai Pan

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

A large baobab close to camp

After enjoying a refreshing afternoon tea break, with several tasty food items including a hot achar-like vegetable chili and bottled beetroot, we set out on our first drive to the actual Nxai Pan itself. Initially it was rather quiet, but we soon started to see more and more animals of various species scattered over the flat grassy plains which seemed to stretch out in every direction. The only problem was that most of the animals including Burchell’s Zebra, giraffe, springbok and Oryx, were very far from the road and practically impossible to photograph. We did get a few good shots of some springbok and later on zebra, while stopped for afternoon sundowners. At the end of the first afternoon at Nxai Pan we were guardedly optimistic but not totally sold on the place.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

In the summer months from about December through March, Nxai Pan is all about zebra so we have quite a few photographs of them. Some feisty individuals here!

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Springbok are just as plentiful as zebra at Nxai Pan

December 12

On this day we made a long road trip – about 3 hours in each direction – to Baines’ Baobabs, an imposing and historically significant landmark in the Nxai Pan area. At this site the British naturalist/painter Henry Baines camped and painted (on 22 May 1862) the now famous quintet of massive baobabs which can still be seen standing in the same spot. Almost 150 years had elapsed since Baines passed this way, but the scene is probably still very much the way he saw it, and not dissimilar to what it looked like 3000 years ago. A very prominent outcrop in the flat Kalahari basin dominated by a grove of mature baobab trees, overlooking flat sandpans in several directions. What makes it unusual is the fact that these are the only large trees for miles and miles in any direction.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Baines’ Baobabs; this fallen over tree had already toppled over when Baines painted the scene nearly 150 years ago

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

One of the huge trees with the saltpan in the background

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

A herd of oryx on a saltpan near Baines’ Baobabs

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Tracker P.K. serving drinks at Nxai Pan

After enjoying a late morning tea break at Baines Baobabs, we started driving back and immediately started to encounter some wildlife, first a couple of nice groups of Oryx on the saltpans not far from the baobas. Then en route, Kathleen had a good, albeit brief sighting of a cheetah. That was followed by an equally brief sighting of a large elephant bull, who was trying to get to a small waterhole by the side of the road. We also had some dung beetle action, watching several of these large insect trying to process a huge mound of fresh elephant dung.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Some dung beetle action en route back from Baines’ Baobabs

Once we got back to Nxai Pan, the area had undergone a transformation. There were dozens, actually more like hundreds of zebra to be seen everywhere. The same was true of giraffes; there were several large journeys, numbering upward of 30 in total. Very impressive.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Giraffe ahead…

The afternoon game drive was one of the best of the entire trip. It included a sighting of a cheetah lying up in shadows about 50 meters off the road, and then one followed by another excellent lion sighting. The first one was of a large maned Kalahari lion first lying down and then striding in the open plains, towards the middle of the pan. Just minutes later, we came across its brother, fairly close to the road, in good position for some very nice photographs of this particularly handsome male with its two-toned gold and almost black mane. Later on during the same drive we also came across ostrich, bat-eared fox, several jackals, scrub hares and earlier we saw several new bird species for the trip including doublebanded courser and blackwinged pratincole.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

A couple of goofy zebras

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

A handsome Kalahari lion

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

December 13

Our game drive this morning started extremely slowly, it was as if someone had switched off the light on the pan and had let all the zebras, giraffes and springbok out. It was really quite empty. However things would liven up very quickly when we came upon a female cheetah with her cub. Initially they skirted the road, walking in and out of shrubs on the west side of the westernmost road, partially obscured from view. However soon after they crossed the road and went to a waterhole for some good photo ops of both them drinking, and also of the cub running around, clambering onto stumps, into trees and pouncing on its mother as she playfully tried to run away from it. All the while a group of about 12 or so giraffes were practically standing on tiptoe staring at the cheetah, keeping a safe distance. Quite an amazing experience for all of us.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

The female cheetah and cub

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

 

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful, although we did have some good views of springbok, oryx and zebra in the afternoon. The evening drive included yet another sighting of the two cheetahs, this time in a different more open area, where she seemingly was in the process of hunting, probably hoping to get within striking distance of some springbok. We had to leave the cheetah behind as it was getting late, and we had to return to camp.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

There were Kori Bustards all over the Nxai Pan area

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Plenty of steenbok as well; this one appears to be agitated

The last two days at Nxai Pan were fairly quiet but quite enjoyable nonetheless. At times the plains would be seemingly bare of animals, only to be replete with scores of zebra, springbok and oryx the very next day. What is it that brings them out onto the plains one day and back into the woodland the next? Who knows. What I would suggest is that anyone intending to visit this area spend at least 3 nights so that if there’s a couple of slow game drives – and there’s bound to be some – it won’t spoilt the entire trip. Being inside a National Park, there is strictly no off-road driving at Nxai Pan. All the more reason to spend several days here; you need to give yourself enough time to find the wildlife close to the roads. And definitely take a good pair of binoculars: Nxai Pan is one place where they are absolutely essential! In fact a small telescope would come in extreme handy here. Initially, we were disappointed not to be able to get closer to the wildlife; on our fist afternoon all of them seemed to be very far from the road. However on the very next day we got quite close to most of the species in the area, including zebra, springbok and to a lesser degree, oryx. Eventually, after 4 days at Nxai Pan, we ended up with ample opportunities for photography including excellent views of lion and cheetah.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

A male Black Korhaan; they were abundant at Nxai Pan

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

A very young springbok

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

A lilac-breasted roller taking off

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Sunset at Nxai Pan

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

On our last full day at Nxai Pan we took an interesting walk out of camp to a nearby waterhole

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

The waterhole near camp, heavily frequented by elephant during the dry season

I have always had a soft spot for the Kalahari and this visit to Nxai Pan reminded me what I like and enjoy about the area. This is truly big sky country with 360 degree views of nothing but blue sky and sometimes fantastic cloud formations. The sunrises and especially the sunsets are near magical – with the sunsets sometimes improving for many minutes after the sun had disappeared below the western horizon.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

The guys around the telescope at Nxai Pan

There is much here beyond just the usual mammals. It is not unusual to bump into less well known species such as bat-eared fox; jackals are very common as are various mongoose species. The birdlife is truly spectacular with several raptors to be seen including buzzards, bateleur eagles, snake eagles, chanting goshawk, yellowbilled kites in summer, various coursers, pratincoles, korhaans, thicknees, lapwings, rollers and the superb Crimsonbreasted Shrike. But it is much more than that. The Kalahari gets into your blood and it doesn’t take long. Three or four days there and you’ll know why this is such a special place. Crisp, clean air, warm days but glorious cool nights and the timeless appeal of wide open spaces. Remarkably, we saw only two other vehicles during our entire stay at Nxai Pan. On December 16 we bid farewell to the wonderful staff and guides at Nxai Pan Camp, braced ourselves for the hot and uncomfortable flight (35 minutes) to Maun in the old workhouse Islander and connected with the flight toJohannesburg. We spent the night at the Metcourt Suites at Caesar’s Palace and then boarded our SAA flight for the long and arduous flight back to the USA.

african safari botswana zimbabwe zambia namibia south africa tanzania kenya uganda rwanda congo photographic photography photo

Nightfall at Nxai Pan

Once again, Botswana had exceeded our expectations. Fabulous camps, superb game-viewing with hardly any other vehicles to be seen and a very good array of habitats and activities, especially with the addition of a Kalahari camp which was our first ever visit to the area in the green season. This has been my fourth green season trip to Botswana and without exception, the experiences have been good. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the summer months are not unbearably hot, in fact the evenings can be quite cool and it is always a good idea to take a light sweater or fleece on any outing.

Highlights were many including the boat ride in the Okavango Delta at Kwara, the amazing lion roaring duet also at Kwara and a spellbinding cheetah sighting at Nxai Pan, with a female and youngster putting up an amazing performance for us. Of course the wild dogs take pride of place. I doubt that I will ever equal such prolific wild dog viewing: four different packs in two different areas over the extent of just ten days. Two packs of five at Kwara, six more at Lebala and then the cherry on the cake: 6 adults and 5 youngsters at a waterhole at Lebala. I’m a big elephant fan and there was more than enough ‘elephant action’ at Lebala to satisfy even the most ardent elephant aficionado.

A FEW PRACTICAL ISSUES

We experienced a few hot days with temperatures in the 90’s F but overall the temperatures were not exceedingly high. In fact the nights were mild to cool. Even if you travel to Botswana in midsummer, take a fleece for the early mornings and evening game drives. And take it with you on every outing!

Rainfall was not a big issue. While we were inconvenienced a couple of times due to thunderstorms, we only missed one (entire) morning activity at Lebala due to heavy rain.

Other than at Nxai Pan, insects were not a problem. We hardly saw any mosquitoes anywhere. However at Nxai Pan the onset of the rain brings out myriads of small beetles and various other flying bugs. They are a big nuisance in especially the dining room (the camp will have to screen off the open dining area in summer) and in the room at night if you want to read as the light attracts them by the dozens.

There were intermittent issues with electricity at all 3 camps, notably Lebala where we and other guests were without power in the rooms for sometimes several hours due to battery/inverter problems. Take a flashlight!

The Kwando game-drive vehicles have two rows of (guest) seats each with 3 ‘bucket’ type seats. So if there are 6 guests in a vehicle, two of them would have to be in a ‘middle’ seat. This was not a problem in our instance as there were not many people in camp. However I can foresee that in the high season (June through Oct) this may very well be a problem.

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Photography and report by Bert Duplessis

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Oct 18 2009

The flight from Lake Naivasha to the Maasai Mara in a DeHavilland Otter was fairly quick and not too bumpy, considering the intermittent rain and thunderstorms which we encountered en route. Our plane touched down at Ol Kiombo airstrip at 4:00P where I was picked up and then just a few minutes later, transferred to a game drive vehicle. The two other guests that afternoon were Bill from Zurich and Jason from Minneapolis-St. Paul.

It wasn’t long before we saw several game drive vehicles along a hillside in the distance. “Must be Shakira,” said our guide Dennis and after a 10-minute drive to the spot, his prediction turned out to be correct. There was Shakira (with her three subadult young) which I had seen and photographed in the Mara just slightly more than a week earlier. She was clearly on the hunt, very alert and checking out a herd of Thomson’s Gazelles which were nervously gathered on a nearby hillside. When one of Shakira’s cubs took an exploratory short run towards the Tommies, they promptly scattered with several of them bouncing right past us, on our left.

Abandoning the attempt, the 4 cheetah then advanced towards us, walking right by the vehicle, before sitting down again to plot another hunting attempts.

Shakira and her cubs prior to the first attempt at knocking down a Tommie

This solitary cheetah was in the same general area with Shakira and her cubs

Eventually our driver got quite a bit closer for some better pics

Shortly afterwards Shakira and her cubs walked by us. So many cheetahs!

Not long afterwards the sun set over the Mara – where are the giraffes when you need them…

Reluctantly leaving the cheetahs behind, we found several nice lions with black manes, but before I could get the camera pointed at them, they flopped down into thick cover. We headed back to camp which we reached at about 6:45P. Then, a minor mishap occurred when I lost my wedding band on the rope bridge across the Talek River. Several Maasai looked for it in the shallow murky water the next morning, but to no avail.

The tents at Mara Intrepids are practically identical to those I had seen at Samburu Intrepids, and the layout was similar too with tents to the left and right of the lounge & dining room area, all overlooking the Talek River. I do not rate Mara Intrepids as highly as Samburu Intrepids; the room definitely needed some attention and also the camp was not aware of my vegan dietary request. In fairness, they did prepare a special batch of ugali for me, which I enjoyed with some pasta and a salad with avocado.

I suppose no Africa trip journal is complete without the obligatory LBR (Lilacreasted Roller) shot. This one is BVD. Better view desired.

October 19

Our game drive this morning was fantastic with great views of elephants, eland, giraffe and two sightings of lions, one on a fresh kill (two wildebeest) and the other one a lioness with 2 young cubs.

The giraffe on the left had an itch on its face which had to be scratched

Like the other eland which we saw on the trip, these were not very cooperative

The elephants on the Mara do a good job keeping the area treeless by finding and eating all small shrubs and emerging trees

This pair of young lion cubs were drinking from the Talek River, near Mara Intrepids Camp

Here they are with their mother

The one cub had its own ideas about where to go next

Launching into the air to clear a small gully in the other direction

A little later on that afternoon we bumped into yet another pride of lions. This was one of the males

They had just fed, having brought down two wildebeest within meters of each other

The females are clearly very powerful and in the prime of life

An opportunistic black-backed jackal darted in and snatched some morsels of meat from one of the two dead wildebeest

Mara Explorer Camp makes a great first impression. It is small and quiet and nothing like Mara Intrepids. The rooms are large, well-appointed tents – 7 doubles and 3 twins. The camp has a beautiful lounge and dining room, very much reminiscent of some of the Botswana tented camps. In terms of the quality of the camp, I would rank it somewhere in-between Wilderness Safaris’ nicer classic camps and their premier camps such as Vumbura Plains. Mara Explorer has a high level of privacy, and there is a radio in each tent to communicate with the camp for example to request an escort to the dining area. Several of our regular clients return to Mara Explorer Camp year after year, and it is easy to see why.

Part of the lounge at Mara Explorer Camp

Dining area at Mara Explorer Camp

A twin bedroom at Mara Explorer

After the inspection visit to Mara Explorer Camp, it was on to Governor’s Camp in the Musiara Swamp area of the Mara. It is a rather large camp sleeping about 72 persons in 36 tents. The tents are basic Meru-style erected on a concrete/slasto base with small front entrance verandah. There is very little privacy in the camp with many of the tents only being 30 to 45 feet apart. The tents have zippers for a front entrance as well as zippers between the main portion of the tent and the en-suite bathroom (toilet, bidet and shower). Zippers are at best annoying, often downright frustrating. I think any safari camp would be well-advised to replace front door zippers with real doors.

Governors gets high marks for lunch: they had a special vegan meal (baked potato, a superb yellow lentil stew and stir-fried snow peas and carrots) delivered to my table. Lunch is served outside, under some large trees along the Mara River. One other thing bothered me slightly, which was the amount of aircraft noise due to the proximity of the Musiara airstrip.

Interior of my room at Governor’s Camp

The tent from the outside

The deck overlooking the Mara River

I spotted some good birds at a bird bath at Governor’s Camp. This is a Doubletoothed Barbet.

One of the local weavers getting some water

A spectacled weaver

A confiding Schalow’s Turaco

And just for good luck, another Lilacbreasted Roller

Il Moran is a small upscale camp with 10 private (well spaced) tents all facing the Mara River. The spacious tents with massive double beds have deluxe fittings, generator-supplied electricity and it guarantees a maximum of 4 persons to a vehicle on game drives.

From Il Moran, it was a short drive to Little Governors, where camp manager Colin showed me around. The camp consists of 17 tents in a half circle overlooking what is ordinarily a huge swamp, but (then) a rapidly drying, rather dessicated ‘wetland’ if one could call it that.

When the area is not in the midst of a long drought, I am sure that Little Governor’s is a great camp – it had an intimate, relaxed feel to it. Importantly, guests are transported to the camp by boat across the Mara River on arrival, which involves negotation about 30 or 40 very steep steps on each side of the river. Guests also have to walk down and up the steps each time they take a game drive.

One of the tents at Il Moran

This leopard in a tree frustrated many photographers who waited for hours for it to get down from the tree.

On my last morning in the Mara, we had probably the best of any lion sightings, with a long and action-packed encounter with the Marsh Pride

First there was a reunion of sorts between three brothers and a sister

The young males were very curious at first, boldly approaching the female

The female eventually ran around the vehicle and crouched down, growling softly

Meanwhile three young lions were sloshing around the marsh

Despite its size and age (showing a bit of wear), Governor’s Camp clearly stands out due to its game-viewing, which was nothing short of phenomenal. On just a very short game drive, in the early afternoon – certainly not the most productive time of the day – we drove past hundreds of animals of a dizzying variety of species including elephant, buffalo, hippo, topi, wildebeest, zebra, Thomson’s Gazelles, Grant’s Gazelles, impala, reedbuck, waterbuck, banded mongoose and an couple of others which I might have missed.

There was a long row of wildebeest walking in near single file, seemingly headed for a Mara River crossing point, en route to Tanzania’s Serengeti Plains. It was a quintessential African scene: animals following some unwritten script, navigating an uncharted map yet the vast majority of them making their way safely to better pastures.

Dinner on my last night in Kenya was exactly as requested: some freshly made ugali with a side of traditionally prepared spinach, and some baked beans. Couldn’t have been any better!

However, there was one more game drive to follow and it was a doozy, with lions taking pride of place, no pun intended. First we spotted a few females, but our attention quickly shifted to three young males chasing off a hyena. Bu the time we arrived on the scene, the hyena was beating a hasty retreat. I later learned that the lions had actually landed a few blows, but the hyena escaped with its life.

From that point, we drove around the northern edge of the Musiara Swamp to a muddy reedbed where 3 young female lions were busy devouring a warthog which they had just killed. They were all members of the huge Musiara Pride, very aptly named as they were literally wallowing in the marsh, their legs eventually covered with mud.

Not long afterwards, the young males walked around the southern edge of the marsh and approached the females. There was a lot of growling, posturing and some dominant behavior, before the lions settled down.

We returned to camp in good spirits, improved even further when I got a couple of useful photographs of a Schalow’s Turaco (life bird) and Ross Turaco (seen for the first time in Zambia in August).

Soon afterwards, the long journey back started: Musiara Airstrip to Nairobi, Nairobi to Dubai and then finally Dubai direct to Houston. The 45-minute flight to Nairobi was uneventful, although it departed from Kichwa Tembo and not Musiara, so I had to make the trip across the Mara River one more time, to Little Governors and then by road to Kichwa Tembo.

Once back in Nairobi I took it easy for a couple of hours in a dayroom at the Panari Hotel, took a long hot bath, ‘enjoyed’ a perfectly awful lunch at Al Pasha restaurant and then headed off to the airport. The flights back from there were long but smooth, pampered all the way in a business class seat on Emirates. As flying goes, it doesn’t get much better than that. The only sour note: some guy from Oklahoma snoring non-stop for about 9 hours on the flight from Dubai to Houston.

The final word on Kenya? A fantastic wildlife experience: nowhere else in the world will you see such a variety and abundance of wildlife and culture in one country. The variety and density of wildlife species – all over the northern Maasai Mara – and particularly in the Intrepids area (Talek River), Musiara Swamp and North Mara Conservancy, was downright astonishing.

Yes Kenya has many problems which I won’t dwell on here (we touched on those in the introductory portion of this report). In the long run no doubt the country will have severe problems with habitat loss due to unfettered population growth and resultant human encroachment in wildlife areas. This last season was an abnormal one due to the pervasive drought, but the high numbers of Maasai cattle in all the wildlife areas were all too visible. This type of concession (it is ok to bring huge numbers of cattle into national parks) is understandable but at the same time an ominous sign for the future. Of course the lives and livelihood of humans have to take precedence over wildlife, but maybe someone should start asking questions about the cattle. Do the Maasai really have to have so many cattle? It seems to be all about the numbers and not the quality.

As for mass tourism, it need not spoil anyone’s enjoyment of a Kenyan safari. Yes there will be 6 or 7 vehicles jockeying for position around a predator sighting, every now and then but certainly not everywhere. Select the right camps and areas, and travel only with a private car and guide, and you can keep any ‘crowd’ experiences to a minimum. Nobody expects to be all by him or herself at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum in August. Likewise, it is unrealistic to expect to enjoy the world’s greatest wildlife spectacle all on your own.

Some of the roads are poor, the matatu drivers are a menace and Nairobi traffic is a bear. If you are prepared to overlook these issues, and ready to embrace the many delightful surprises which await you on safari, go soon. Spend enough time in the Mara and you will see lots of lions, and much else besides! Learn a few Swahili phrases (it’s easy!) and experience friendliness like never before in your life. Even with plain old English, and a couple of ‘jambo’s’ and ‘asante’s’ mixed in here and there, you will have an amazing time.

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February 4th 2010 

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Finally, we have arrived at Entebbe Airport in Uganda.  First time traveling with Emirates so we had a pit stop with an overnight in Dubai.  Getting some rest in a real bed between these long flights was very relaxing seeing as Lyndon is a horrible plane sleeper.  The service was rumored to be excellent and I’m glad to say they did not disappoint.  If we could schedule it again we would plan on spending a full day in Dubai, tour the city and try to rub off some jet lag before diving into the Safari.  Back in Entebbe the customs moved relatively quickly, just remember your new (2000 or younger) $50.00 bill for the Visa.  Anything older than that and you get turned down or a horrible exchange rate.  Not just at the airport either, everywhere, make sure to bring new bills, it is almost impossible to use old ones in Uganda.

We were met by our guide Ham immediately after clearing customs and we set off to the Boma Guest House.  The drive from the airport in Entebbe to our destination in the suburbs of the capitol Kampala was about half an hour.  February falls under the “dry” season in Uganda but that doesn’t rule anything out.  It is more of a relative term.  The first day had some showers and it was overcast or even raining throughout the trip.  Nothing too heavy, indeed it actually made the temperature quite bearable.  We had hoped to meet our travel companions that night for introductions but they all arrived at separate times and we could not meet until the following morning.  Dinner was excellent.

BomaRoom

This was our room at the Boma Guest House.

 

February 5th 

Sleeping on the first night is always tricky because no matter how tired you are and how quickly you fall asleep you invariably wake up at around 3:00 AM and feel wide awake.  This trip was no different for us so by the time breakfast rolled around we were ready to begin the day.  We met our travel companions Nicole and Sherine over some nice eggs bacon and tea.  Today we were off to visit the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, whose aim it is to reintroduce rhinos to protected areas in Uganda.  They currently have 9 including several babies and are expecting to add some more from South Africa soon.  The drive from Kampala was about 4 hours but seemed longer due to some never ending speed bumps.

Speedbumps

I forgot how many speed bumps we counted, but it was easily too many.

 

Currently the Sanctuary is fully enclosed and the rhinos are actually monitored and guarded by armed park rangers 24/7.  This makes locating them a cinch and partially habituates them to humans.  Because of this we were able to get fairly close and get some fine photographs.  This was a real joy because in our earlier safaris to southern Africa we had not had the pleasure of spotting any rhino.  In all we had enough time to see 5 different rhino in two separate locations.  A mother with a baby in one spot and a different mother with her baby along with a male in the other spot.  When we got back to the visitor’s center we had some nice lunch, pork and spaghetti and meatballs.  We then set off back to the Boma for a relaxing evening. 

Rhino1

As you can see, there was quite a bit of brush in the way.

Rhino2

Here you can see the baby at our first stop.

Rhino3

And the baby at our second stop, standing infront of his mother and father.

Continue to Part 2


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February 6th

See more of our Uganda photos with this Slideshow

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This morning we set off for Ndali Lodge with a pit stop at the town of Fort Portal.  Here we stopped at a buffet for lunch and had the opportunity to try some of the local foods, the most interesting being matoke.  It consists of a green plantain that looks like an unripened banana steamed over charcoal for a few hours.  Always served with some type of sauce, otherwise it is fairly dry and not very flavorful.  The remainder of the drive was a slow, steady climb in elevation and we didn’t arrive at the Lodge until evening.  Before sunset we got to meet the owner, Aubrey, as well as some of the staff and a couple of nice dogs.  Jason spotted quite a few nice birds just outside of our room.

Dog1

Here is one of Aubrey’s 4 dogs. She reminded us very much of our own.

Ndaliroom

This was our room at Ndali Lodge.

Weaver1

Some weaver birds just outside our room.

Ndalibird

With bee eaters in the other direction.

Continue to Part 3


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February 7th 

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From Ndali we headed to Chibale Forest National Park for our first chimp trekking experience, about an hour’s drive.  The temperature was mild and we were fortunate to have some nice cloud coverage.  Once we arrived inside the park we got to meet some of the guides and received a preparatory talk about what to expect.  For example, there are ants in the forest and it is highly recommended that you roll you socks over your pants so they don’t sneak in and bite you while you stand and look over the chimps.  There were two groups of 6, each having one guide and any number of porters to carry your gear (highly recommended since you need to bring your own water).  The forest itself was very thick but the paths were well defined and the terrain was quite flat and easy.  Almost immediately our guide spotted a mother with a baby far up high.  They had been feeding on the fig tree we were under but the fruit was not quite ripe.  They were difficult to spot at that height due to the dense foliage and after a few minutes we decided to move on.  The guide knew the location of other fig trees so we traveled to the edge of the forest to see if we couldn’t find a larger troupe.  No luck there but we had been radioed by the other group that they had spotted some chimps a short distance away.  Since the sun had not really come out during the day the chimps were inclined to stay in the trees where it was cool.  This made it difficult to get great views but with some patience Jason managed to get some great photos regardless.  Overall Chibale was very nice and the success rate for spotting chimps is quite high.  You are only allowed one hour with the chimps and it goes by fast.  In order to habituate them park rangers had to spend approximately 10 years following them through the forest.

Chibale1

Here you can see the density of most of the forest, although there were walking paths similar to this road, allowing us access.

Chibale2

Here is one of the old chimps with a quite young one. Once again you can see the density; Jason had to peek through multiple other trees to get a somewhat clear shot.

Chibale3

This is probably the clearest shot Jason got of the chimps at Chibale

Unfortunately for us we did not have time to rest and wash up after this and had to start the drive to Ishasha following the trek.  In a normal itinerary this would not be the case but we needed to see as much as we could in as short a time as possible.  The drive took a solid 5 hours.  There were great amounts of butterflies on one stretch of road. 

Butterflies

We arrived at Ishasha in Queen Elizabeth National Park and instead of heading straight to camp we decided to go on a quick game drive before sunset.  We popped open the roof of the Land Rover and headed back out.  In about an hour we got to see some large herds of Topi and Cob. 

Cobfawn

A Cob and her fawn.

Topi

This Topi was grazing as we passed by.

Continue to Part 4


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February 8th 

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This morning we took off early for another chimp trekking expedition.  This time we went to Chambura Gorge.  Normally you would not stay at Ishasha for this as it is too far from the gorge but we had no other choice if we wanted to work in another trek.  Staying at Mweya would be much easier and save time in the drive from Ndali and to the gorge.  At Chambura the maximum group can be up to 8 and the guides are armed.  There are fewer chimps in the gorge than in Chibale but the area is not nearly as great.  The success rate is solid but not quite as good.  After another briefing from the guides we set off into the gorge.  The decline is extremely sharp and you really need some good solid hiking boots.  There is a river in the middle of the gorge with paths running along both shores and a bridge connecting them.  Luckily for us when we got to the bottom we immediately heard the chimps and our guide lead us straight to them.  We spotted a large 35 year old male on the ground and proceeded to follow him as best we could.  He would walk for a while and stop and glance and us and then continue his walk.  He wasn’t distressed at all at our presence.  Eventually he stopped and our entire group caught up so we were all able to take a nice amount of photos.  Strangely, though, he doubled back and actually wound up walking past us at close range (about a foot) which worried our guide.  Thankfully he just passed right on by, overall an incredible sighting.  We started following him again but unfortunately for us we had an elderly couple in our group that couldn’t keep up.  With a single guide we couldn’t split up so we had to go back to the entrance and climb out of the gorge to drop them off.  Afterwards we went back down but the chimps had moved on.

Chambura1

Jason had to run ahead to get this shot. He was winded afterwards, as it was quite steep.

Chambura2

This is where the male chimp decided to stop and double back on us.

Chambura3

Here’s the same chimp after walking extremely close to us.

We left the Gorge and set off for a site inspection of Mweya Lodge, on the Kazinga Channel.  Once there we were invited to take a boat cruise on the Channel.  There is actually a larger boat that caters to a large number of people (Mweya is a large hotel lodge) but the private cruise is a much better option.  The cruise was fantastic and is highly recommended.  From there we drove back to Ishasha.  After freshening up we had a nice dinner with the owners and got some much needed sleep. 

Kazinga1

Some elephants playing in the Kazinga Channel.

Kazinga2

We got very close to some of the Pied Kingfishers on the channel.

Kazinga3

A good representation of just how much wildlife was on the Kazinga Channel.

Kazinga4

We were lucky enough to see this Hammerkop right after a hunt!

Kazinga5

I think we all know why Jason took this photo.

Continue to Part 5


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February 9th 

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This morning we decided against the early game drive necessary to spot hyena, opting instead for a late morning breakfast followed by a normal game drive.  Again we got to see plenty of antelope and a nice variety of bird life but the highlight was a couple of female lions in a fig tree.  The famous tree climbing lions of Ishasha.

Lion1

Lion2

Lion3

The sun came out and the breeze died down, so this Lioness decided the tree was no longer where she wanted to be.

Ishasha

Lions weren’t the only thing in the tree’s at Ishasha.

After our successful game drive we left Ishasha and headed to Bwindi for the highlight of the trip, the gorilla trekking.  It was about a 3 hour drive and the scenery became very nice towards the end when we really got into the mountains.  Quite a few tea plantations around this area.  Buhoma Lodge was a great place to stay, very nice accommodation and food.  The temperature up here is much milder with the elevation but I’m not sure I would call it cold.  We were very excited about seeing the gorillas the following day and got a great night of rest to prepare. 

Bwindi1

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February 10th 

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Woke up at 6:30 this morning with breakfast at 7:00.  Went ahead and had a nice big breakfast to have plenty of energy for trekking.  No telling when lunch is coming.  Make sure you have the proper boots as well as some long sleeve shirts, a hat, even gloves to make the trip though the forest a bit more pleasant.  We took off with our gear, 2 liters of water and a pack lunch at 7:45 and met our guides at the briefing site.  3 groups leave daily each with a guide and two soldier escorts.  They also provide walking sticks should you need one.  Again, porters are highly recommended.  Not only do they carry any gear you may have, they give you a hand whenever you need one and literally help pull you up and down the mountain.  It is almost inevitable that you will fall and get muddy so don’t worry too much when it happens.  The footing can get slippery and steep in a hurry.  The forest, known as the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, lives up to its name.  Much thicker than the areas we did the chimp trekking in and much more elevation change.  Temperature was mild luckily and the density of the forest provides almost constant shade.  Very early in the morning, before we are awake, guides are sent into the forest to locate the area where the gorilla families nested the night before.  From there they radio the location and begin to track them.  This system allows the paying client the best possible chance at catching up with the gorillas in the least amount of time.  It will still take quite a few hours though, our trek lasted 2 which is probably on the lower side of the average so we got fairly lucky.  Once spotted, we are allowed 1 hour to view the gorillas, exactly the same as the chimps.  The first glimpse of one was up in a tree and you could really see the tree shaking.  Before we knew it a mother and her child were walking by on the ground.  We followed another one who led us to the whole family, which was leisurely moving through the forest snacking on leaves and napping intermediately.  The whole experience is almost indescribable and was easily the top safari experience of my life.  Jason actually got a “playful” tap on the leg by one rambunctious young male.  Seeing the little ones beat their chests in imitation of their older family members was spectacular.  They are all very calm and your presence normal to them because they are located and visited every single day without exception.  This was the highlight of the trip without doubt and a fantastic life experience.

Silverback

The Silverback, although he looks harmless in this photo.

Gorilla1

This young one was about as curious of us as we were of him.

Gorilla2

The juveniles beating their chests, trying to get us to play along with them. No thanks!

Hiking back to the briefing site took about an hour and a half.  Images of the gorillas keep your mind occupied making it more easily bearable.  Once we got back we sat down and tore into our pack lunches while our guide Florence (the first female ranger in Bwindi) gave us our final debriefing as well as certificates with our names and the date.  After a nice siesta back in camp we visited the local orphanage where they put on a great performance for us and a couple other guests.

Continue to Part 7


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Fish Eagle Safaris’ Lyndon and Jason Duplessis recently left  home for an adventure trip in Botswana,  the Migration Routes Safari.  They did get an adventure trip, but it wasn’t quite what they expected!

Two short slide shows were made with the photos taken, Slideshow 1Slideshow 2.

Here is their trip report:
Near the beginning of our trip we were informed that the locations we would be staying had been upgraded. We were expecting adventurer camps. 9×9 tents with two cots, and very few amenities. We got something a bit more extravagant.

The trip had everything: big game, riding elephants, mokoros, boat cruises, amazing food, sunrises and sundowners. We’ve always been suckers for predators, and we saw plenty at Linyanti. Lions Wild Dogs, Leopards, and Hyena. Every day there was something new and exciting to see there. We’re not sure how different the trip would have been without the upgrades. Obviously we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to ride elephants, but the game viewing would not have changed. All in all it was one of our best trips to date. It would have been nice not to deal with the bugs at Xigera, but what can you expect from an island in the middle of the Okavango Delta? And while mokoro rides and nature walks are nice, we think one fewer day at Xigera would have worked out better.

Here is a short diary of a few of our early days on safari, but our trip can be summarized quite easily by the photographs taken.

4-28

After a long and completely relaxing flight from Houston through Washington to Joburg we finally get to our hotel, The Mondior Concorde. Fighting the urge to collapse and sleep for about two days straight we unpack and settle in. After just relaxing for a couple hours we have a small debate whether to get up and grab a bite to eat at the nearby Casino, or just crash for the night. Jason wins the argument and we make our way out of the hotel. It is a short walk, and before we know it we’re inside scouring the different restaurants. Quickly we spot an Ocean Basket and dart over, having been to a few on our previous trips. After dinner we head back and collapse knowing that our adventure would begin early the next morning.

4-29

After an early breakfast we head to OR Tambo to catch our flight to Livingstone. This flight seems like ten minutes after our recent trans-Atlantic flight. We land and meet our Wilderness rep who helps us pack and takes us immediately to see Victoria Falls. It is our first time to view it from the Zambian side. Unfortunately it is difficult to see much of the falls because the excessive rains from this year have flooded the Zambezi:

Zambezi Flood

 Which then pours such an enormous amount of water down the falls that all you see is a fine white mist. After getting nice and wet while crossing a small bridge (sorry, no photos, couldn’t risk the camera) we are on our way to the first camp, Toka Leya. It is located outside of Livingstone, on the Zambezi about 12 km from Vic Falls.

Toka Leya Room

Toka Leya Room

Toka Leya Room

Zambezi Cruise
For an evening activity we took a boat cruise down the river

Croc Floating
This croc floated alongside our boat for almost 30 seconds.

First Sunset
The first sunset of our safari.

4-30

The next morning we set off for Botswana. After a short drive we found ourselves on the water again taking a scenic boat transfer to get to our waiting Land Rovers.  

African Darter drying it's wings
African Darter drying it’s wings.

African Fish Eagle
This guy looks strangely familiar.

Croc sun bathing
I am still jetlagged and envy this guy a little bit.

Our Vehicle
After about an hour we disembark and toss our luggage in our spacious Land Rover in preparation for a lengthy drive to reach our camp at Linyanti.

Warthog up close
We are immediately greeted by some warthog.
Linyanti Tented Camp room
Quite the upgrade from a 9×9 adventure tent!

5-1

The next morning we awake for our first game drive. Our guide, Richard, had heard some lions calling early in the morning and he found their tracks on the road shortly after leaving camp. After about fifteen minutes we found two females with a younger male.

Young male lion

After taking this in for a while, the lions shoved off and we went to have tea by the marsh. As we were unpacking some snacks a small herd of elephant went for a swim nearby.
Elephant playing in the water
This one is having almost as much fun as we are.
Female lion 1

Female lion 2
On our evening drive we found two female lions who had just gorged themselves and were resting in some shade.

 

5-2

The next morning the plan was to have a full day drive in order to reach the Savuti Channel.  On the way we came across a pair of enormous male lions, nicknamed “The Border Brothers”.  At one point they both started roaring, which was probably the highlight of the trip for me.

Male Lion Roar 1

Male Lion Roar 2

Male Lions Tussling manes
Shortly after this we made our way to the airstrip near Duma Tau and were able to see a pack of 12 wild dog!

Wild Dog chewing on branch

Wild Dog up close
You can even see the blood on their faces from a recent kill.

Lunch in the bush
It had been a long day, here was the lunch we had in a small cabin overlooking the Savuti Channel, which had just recently flooded.

Lunch in the bush
Our travel companions enjoying the view from the shade.
Lunch in the bush
The Savuti Channel, which had been dry for almost 30 years.

5-3 
On our final day at Linyanti Tented Camp, we were able to do a short game drive on the way to the airstrip.

Wild Dog up close
We saw this hyena grab a bit of leftover impala.

We later discovered who had originally killed the impala, the same male lions we had seen the previous day:

Male Lion resting 1

Male Lion resting 1

Plane's view of the Okavango

Plane's view of the Okavango 2

Some views of the Okavango from our plane.

Our next stop, Abu Camp, was very special. Not only were the accommodations first rate but the elephant back safaris were something we will both remember forever.

 

5-4

Abu camp beds

Abu camp sink and shower

As you can see, we were really roughing it at Abu.

Leaving the island on elephant back

The elephants live on an island with the mahouts, or handlers. Here we are leaving the island, heading towards the bush.

5-5

Okavango flood, from a vehicle

There was lots of flooding around Abu Camp. Everyday roads were completely under water. This picture was taken from our vehicle, already a few feet deep.

Sand 1, Toyota 0

The vehicle carrying our afternoon picnic was not quite as well equipped as our Land Rovers and got stuck in some soft sand. A few extra vehicles had to be called in to assist.

Walking through the flood plains with ease

Luckily for us, these guys don’t have any problem making their way through the extra water, in fact they quite enjoy it.

Hippo from elephant back

Up close and personal with a hippo while safely on our elephants.

Lunch at Abu

Our picnic setup, day 2 at Abu Camp.

5-6 through 5-8

Mahouts and our travel group

Our amazing adventure at Abu Camp was coming to an end. Luckily, we were all allowed to have a group picture taken with the Matriarch of the elephants, Cathy.

Our next stop was Xigera Mokoro Trails Camp. After a short flight and a lengthy boat transfer, we were on our own little island in the middle of the delta.
Our poler at Xigera

This was our poler during our stay at Xigera.

Elephant skull near our snack spot

An elephant skull, tusks still intact, near the location we stopped to have a quick snack.

African Fish Eagle takeoff

An African Fish Eagle taking off from the top of an old tree. Even in nearly silent mokoros he heard us coming.

Malachite Kingfisher

A Malachite Kingfisher perched on a reed.

Elephant crosswalk

We happened across a young bull that wanted to cross the water in front of us.


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By Bert Duplessis, Fish Eagle Safaris

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My March 2010 site inspection trip to South Africa was conducted in whirlwind fashion:  spending one night each at 10 different properties, and covering a huge swath of South Africa’s game-rich Sabi Sand and Timbavati Reserves adjacent to Kruger Park, as well as Cape Town, Franschoek in the Cape Winelands and Grootbos in the Southern Cape.

For the first time in many years I rented a car (from Budget) and despite some misgivings about South Africa’s notoriously bad road safety record, I was soon zipping about Pretoria and Johannesburg in a VW Polo, on the left hand side of the road.  It really was not a problem getting used to drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road – but it was unnerving to be passed by several drivers exceeding the posted speed limit by a wide margin.  For would-be visitors, my advice would be to drive sparingly and to avoid night driving, especially in urban areas.  Be sure to include a GPS device with your car rental – you can save yourself lots of time – by not getting lost – and void the anxiety of finding yourself in potentially dangerous situations.

On March 7, following on a short stay with family in Pretoria and attending my high school reunion, I made my way to Oliver R. Tambo Airport where I dropped off the car and put some excess luggage in storage.  From there it was just a short stroll to the FedAir departure office.  FedAir passengers are taken by minibus to a very comfortable lounge on the other side of the airport.  Here you can relax with a soft drink or juice (complimentary) or enjoy a light snack such as a sandwich and salad or fruit, likewise no charge.  Soon enough, we walked out onto the tarmac, boarded the Beechcraft 1900 and took off in an easterly direction for the Kruger Park.

MALAMALA GAME RESERVE

First stop was MalaMala Game Reserve.  Having been collected from Skukuza Airstrip (where I was offered and promptly accepted an upgrade from Main Camp to Rattray Camp), another couple and I were driven to MalaMala.  I had previously spent several days at Main Camp and having sent dozens of clients there over the years, I was keen to experience the MalaMala ‘magic’ once again.  There are several fancier and more expensive camps in the Sabi Sand Reserve but in terms of consistently good game-viewing MalaMala has few rivals.  And so it was.  From my very first game-drive (good views of rhino and then lions in a rain-storm!) the game-viewing was simply phenomenal.  I had never seen so many leopards and not just glimpses of them:  out in the middle of the road, strolling about and very very relaxed!

The accommodation at Rattray Camp was very luxurious.  The elegantly appointed khaya was massive with a separate lounge area, plenty of closets and of course the usual (just bigger!) his and hers bathrooms which MalaMala is known for.  There’s even a wireless internet connection if you absolutely have to check Facebook…  Not to mention a heated plunge pool which I did not have time to try.  Most importantly, game drives at Rattray are limited to  maximum 4 persons per vehicle so for a party of 4 it is like having a private vehicle.

The next day I did a site inspection at MalaMala Main Camp and I was reminded why I liked this camp so much.   The camp and the surrounding grounds are attractive and spotless – perfectly maintained, green and making  the best of the ideal location along the Sand River.  While Main Camp’s rooms and suites are probably a bit dated compared with some of the newer camps, they are very comfortable, with plenty of space and not lacking for anything.  Over the years I have been to many safari camps in several countries but MalaMala remains at the top of my list for excellent value and above all consistently excellent game-viewing.  Want to go on safari but not spend endless days bumping around poor roads in search of elusive wildlife?  MalaMala is the answer.  Three nights here and you’ll have your fill of point-blank sightings of the so-called Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard), not to mention many other mammals and an amazing variety of birds.  The rangers are knowledgeable and enthusiastic and will not only answer all your questions but will get you into the right spot at the right time for some fantastic photographs.  During my short stay, the food and hospitality were of the highest standard.

Some photographs taken at MalaMala:

The first big mammals I saw were these magnificent white rhinos:

Not long afterwards, during and after a short rain-storm, we observed a pride of lion who had just taken down a warthog minutes earlier.

Two large male lions had recently invaded the territory; this one was spotted during a night drive:

There were leopards all over the place, and they were not shy…

My room at Rattray Camp:

The deck at MalaMala Main Camp

Suites and luxury suites at MalaMala Main Camp:

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By Bert Duplessis, Fish Eagle Safaris

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From MalaMala, it was not a long drive to my second Sabi Sand property – Leopard Hills.  I was immediately struck with the beauty of the surroundings.  The lodge is built on a hill overlooking a natural waterhole, and it is easy to see why the original owners selected this site.  The lodge was initially built with five suites, and over time, have added private heated plunge pools, a library, three more suites, a traditional Shangaan boma, gym and sala, creating a five star lodge with the finest amenities.

The rooms at Leopard Hills are certainly amongst the most impressive ones I have seen anywhere.  The luxurious glass-fronted suites, complete with their own sundeck and rock plunge pool offer superb views of the African bushveld beyond. For a romantic retreat in the bush, you really can’t do much better than this.  I only wish I had more time to spend in the superb main lodge – over brunch there I enjoyed the fantastic view over the country-side from the elevated position on top of the hill.   The food was excellent and my vegan diet was catered for with seemingly the greatest of ease.

But of of course any Sabi Sand lodge lives or dies by its game-viewing and Leopard Hills produced big time.  On our afternoon game drive we found a large pride of lions with one particularly impressive maned male.  My long telephoto lens was of no use as the lions were practically right next to the vehicle!  The following morning we struck the jackpot with wild dogs – literally coming upon them just seconds after they had taken down an impala.  This was just the second time I had witnessed the spectacle of wild dogs feeding at close quarters and it was no less impressive than the first time.  Primeval in every sense of the word.  In a matter of minutes, the impala had been reduced to little more than some scattered bones.

Photographs taken at Leopard Hills:

The suites at Leopard Hills are fabulous

With lots of space inside and out

The same can be said of the common areas such as the lounge and dining room

However it was the game-viewing that took pride of place, with several fantastic looks at lions:

Not to mention a sleepy-looking vervet monkey

Impala all over the place

Several white rhino

And the highlight on the last morning, a pack of wild dogs on an impala kill

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By Bert Duplessis, Fish Eagle Safaris

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On 09 March, a driver from Eastgate Safaris picked me up from Leopard Hills for the road transfer to the Timbavati Reserve, which is located along the central portion of Kruger Park.  It was quite an interesting drive on a mix of gravel and asphalt road, through interesting terrain with the northern part of the Drakensberg escarpment in the background.   At my request, we stopped at a cafe en route; I picked up a copy of the local newspaper and some candy – the one thing that is in short supply at safari camps.

By early afternoon, I was settling into my very nice room at Kings Camp in the Timbavati.  First as a youngster with my family and later on my own and with my wife, I had spent many a wonderful vacation in the nearby Kruger Park, with drives from Rest Camps such as Letaba and Olifants often taking us to the edge of the Timbavati.  The game-viewing was always satisfying, and I still clearly recall finding lions there regularly, as well as some of the most magnificent elephants I had ever seen.  On trips to the area during the 1970’s, we kept our eyes peeled for a sighting of the widely publicized white lions of the Timbavati.  That was not to be.  We saw plenty of lions, but no white ones.  Little did I know that I would have to wait another 30 years to finally see a white lion.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

Before going in search of two white lion cubs which had been sighted in the area, I had to inspect the camp.  It is impressive in every sense:  beautiful grounds creating a sense of space and freedom, with an elevated lounge/conference area, a very cozy bar & adjacent lounge and a dining room that opens up to the manicured lawns.  Even though may stay was very short, I got the distinct impression of a very well run property, with everything ‘just so’, from the quality of the guiding to the cooking, and the house-keeping.  The rooms are massive and luxuriously equipped with air-conditioning, Victorian ball-and-claw bath, indoor and outdoor double shower, fully stocked mini-bar and private verandah. Dark tones of wood and thatch offset the natural colors of the bushveld.

Kings Camp really came into its own on the game drives with guide Morne Hamlyn.  Clearly, Morne was at his happiest in the bush and his enthusiasm was great to see.  It wasn’t long before we came upon our first lions and sure enough, there were two young white cubs amongst them.  Amazing to see how white they really are, in comparison with the normal much more yellowish/brown lions.  The blue eyes were striking.  Of course these lions are not albinos, they are leucistic (reduced pigmentation) which is caused by a recessive gene.  So it is a condition which occurs naturally but extremely rarely – currently the two white cubs in the Timbavati are the only two known to exist in the wild.

It was apparent that the cubs were quite thin, with some of their ribs very prominent.  Morne was worried about that – apparently the cubs had not eaten solid food in several days to the inability of their pride to make a kill.  Morne added that it was unusual because the pride is ruled by several extremely powerful females who can literally kill anything and who are known to regularly bring down giraffe.  A couple of days after our departure from the area, I learnt that the pride had in fact taken down a giraffe so there was plenty to eat for all of them.

PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN AT KINGS CAMP

We had some great views of leopards, most of whom were not shy either:

Not many elephant sightings, but there were some:

These juvenile hyenas were quite entertaining, with their parents absent from the den

But of course the highlight at Kings Camp were the two white lion cubs, the latest emergence  of the rare strain of white lions of theTimbavati

Clearly this cub had not had a solid meal in quite a while:

My ‘room’ at Kings  Camp – actually it was the honeymoon suite.

This elevated lounge at Kings Camp has a view of the water hole which is frequented by wildlife especially in the dry season.

The pool at Kings Camp

The bar and adjacent lounge

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