The Fearless Travelers On Safari in Africa, 2003
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Lions and leopards and elephants oh my. Zebras and cheetahs and giraffes on high. These are just some of the things we saw in the bush in Botswana and on the Zambezi River in Zambia. Noted below are our experiences on safari in Africa with photos of the camps and maps of Africa.

Traveling to Africa has always been on our 'must do' list, but we never made the time to do it. We had originally thought that we'd take three to four weeks off and see everything. But finding that much time was proving to be very difficult. However, now that we were living in London in the same time zone, we decided to give it a shot. We also decided to just do one area over two weeks. In retrospect that is the only way to do it. Southern Africa alone is a huge place and something that will take many trips to really see. For this trip we decided to do game viewing in Botswana and then finish up with a visit to Victoria Falls.

We wanted to see the cats and elephants. And that led us to Botswana. Katherine did the research on the Internet as usual and Botswana kept coming up as a place to see nearly everything. And the camps all looked delightful.

When you start looking into camps there are a lot of options ranging from carrying your own sleeping bag on a walking safari to being flown into five star facilities. And prices range from a few hundred dollars per person per night to $1,000 per person per night and up. Basically settling on Botswana, Katherine then e-mailed a number of trip planners to get their input. We then told them what we wanted, and did not want-e.g. we were not going to sleep in sleeping bags, help set up tents or do the dishes after a meal-and the kind of things we wanted to see and let them set up an itinerary.

What we ended up with was three nights in Chief's Camp in the Okavango Delta of Botswana and six nights in three separate camps in the Selinda area of Botswana. Then we'd fly to Kasane, in northern Botswana, where we would cross into Zambia and stay three nights at the River Club on the Zambezi river just above Victoria Falls. Coupled with two nights spent on British Airways-via overnight flights-it made for a perfect two week trip. We had great expectations for our game viewing but were prepared to be disappointed. Game viewing is obviously difficult to plan because you never know what you're going to come across, as we were constantly told by the guides.

So, on May 20th we left London on an overnight flight to Johannesburg, or Joburg as the natives call it. The good news was that there were shower facilities in the British Airways lounge in Joburg, a very refreshing treat. We then picked up a flight to Maun in North Botswana. However, arrival at Maun was not without incident.

First we had to fill out a form related to the SARS virus because the US and the UK were on the list. Then, as soon as we cleared immigration, we had to stop at the nurses office so she could take our temperature, under the arm, and our blood pressure to see if we might be sick. Fortunately, we were the second people to get our luggage because this was a major delay in getting out of there. Then we found that the bathrooms were closed due to a shortage of water. Not knowing how long the next flight would be, this was a little unsettling. We were then met by people from our charter flight and taken out to a small Cessna which we were assured would take us to our first stop, Chief's Camp. We had now worked our way from a 747, to a 737, to a six seat puddle hopper.

We had been warned to bring very little luggage and for good reason; there wasn't much room. The pilot, the two of us and three additional passengers going elsewhere, plus some freight being transported to our camp, took up all the available space. It was later explained to us that there were two basic ways to get supplies into the camps; one, by truck, that could take weeks to get somewhere depending on the weather, and two, by air via the network of 40 or so commuter aircraft. So important freight was stuffed in with passengers for transport to the various camps around the country. On this particular day, one important piece of freight was a box of crystal wine glasses which Michael decided was a very good start.

Now these little planes fly at maybe 2,000 feet so you get a pretty good view of the landscape. And all that we could see for miles was scrub brush. Then eventually what looked like a river began to appear in the middle of this desolation. After about 30 minutes we landed at a truly small airport. Every camp has access to some local airport. One of the big problems at these little airports are the animals. If the elephants or the buffalo happen to be on the runway, there's little you can do to move them off so the plane will just have to circle around. The elephants, in particular, are not to be hurried.

Anyway, we were met by one of the camp guides in a Land Cruiser who then took us to the main lodge. Up until now, we had no idea what to expect. The write-up on the camp said that Chief's Camp is a luxury bush lodge situated on Chief's Island in the exclusive Mombo Concession of the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana.

One description of the camp read: 'Chief's Camp offers twelve, luxury safari tent rooms, on stilts, with private viewing decks and en-suite bathrooms. The spacious rooms have been decorated in a contemporary ethnic African theme of earthy tones and natural textured fibers, assuring guests of style, privacy, comfort and seclusion. Overlooking the seasonal Piajio Channel the public area is under thatch and consists of a dining room, bar, lounge, reference library, swimming pool and sun deck.' We had opted for upscale lodging but felt that luxury tented-quarters was an oxymoron. In fact, that was exactly what we got. After the delightful arrival drink we were offered lunch on the main deck with a view out to the watering hole. It was quiet and there were some impala drinking at the watering hole. Following that, we were led to our tent. It had a shaded deck also with a view out to the watering hole, a king-sized bed, a lovely vanity area and a flush toilet. It was delightful. We were told to be back in half an hour for tea and then we'd head out for our first safari.

The modus operandi at all the camps follows a similar schedule. There are two game drives, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon. At Chief's Camp they woke you up at 6:30 am with tea, coffee and cookies and expected you at breakfast at 7:00. You would then leave for your morning drive at 7:30 and return at around 11:30 for lunch at 12:00. Then you'd have from the end of lunch until around 3:00 to take your shower, rest and do whatever. Tea is served at around 3:00 to 3:30 everywhere and then you'd head out for the evening drive. In the Selinda Area, you'd go out before breakfast and come back for a brunch.

In Chief's Camp, night driving was not allowed so you'd be back in camp shortly after dark. In the Selinda area we could use spot lights to check out the game at night and so would return somewhat later. In all the camps, the highlight of the evening drive, always setup at twilight, was the sundowner. Sundowner was cocktail hour and they would bring along whatever you wanted to drink, plus hors d'oeuvres, and you'd watch the sun set at some picturesque place. You will see the number of beautiful sunsets we watched in our many pictures. A nice touch at every camp was that you were met by the camp manager whenever you returned. The guide or drivers would always give the camp a 10 minute notice on the way back.

Heading out the first afternoon with two other couples in the land cruiser, we saw zebras, elephants, warthogs, giraffes, and all variety of antelope just grazing around. And the land cruisers could get remarkably close to the animals. They would only move off if you got to within maybe 50 feet of them. And, new to Africa, we kept wanting the guide to stop so we could get pictures of everything. 'Wow, a Zebra. Wait till I get this picture.' 'Wow, an elephant. Wait till I get that picture.' 'Wow, a giraffe. Wait till I get another picture.' So, we were quite delighted when we got back that night.

Well, we got to meet the other guests at the cocktail hour before dinner and then had a lovely dinner. It turned out the other two members of our group were newlyweds. Indeed, it seemed that a lot of newlyweds chose Africa for their honeymoon, if not the wedding itself. Our hosts also made it very clear that when you wanted to go back to your tent, you would be escorted. This was a rule in every camp in Botswana. And, invariably, when you got up in the morning you were informed of whatever animal had been walking through the camp during the night.

But the excitement of the first day was not over yet. Getting in bed that night Katherine gave out a scream and jumped back. What she had found in her side of the bed was a hot water bottle. And finding something warm in the bed with her was not expected. Well, it turned out to be a very desirable addition because that night the temperature dropped into the 50's and, being a tent, there was little difference between the temperature outside and that in the tent. The next morning we learned a lesson we would use throughout the trip. Have your clothes laid out so that when you get up you waste no time getting warm clothes on.

You also became accustomed to the multitude of noises. There was a baboon troop that was resident around our camp and the big males can make some horrendous noises at night. And to newcomers, we were sure these screams were a couple of hungry lions fighting over who was going to eat the people in the corner tent. Anyway, moving right along, the next two days were even more spectacular.

Some odd things we quickly picked up on. The reason the camps offered en suite bathrooms is that you could not go outside at night. There were swimming pools at the camps but they were not heated so only the brave tried the water. The local wildlife, however, thought they made great watering holes. The best seats in the land cruiser are the front seats. The further back you sat the more you got bounced around. It was not uncommon for the persons in the very back seat to become airborne over some rough road.

Power was available at all the camps, at least sometime during the day to recharge batteries. And all had an adapter that would allow you to use either a UK or a US plug. However, whatever you do, make sure your recharger is an international recharger that will take 240V which was all that was available.

Anyway, early the next morning, we came across a pair of cheetah brothers. We spent a while watching them but all they wanted to do was sleep. We saw a lot of predators during the next eight days and we were always amazed at their indifference to us. All the animals are somewhat used to the trucks driving around but prey would never let us get within maybe 50 feet or so without moving off. But you could virtually drive over one of the big cats. Apparently, they cannot distinguish us from the vehicle. And they cannot identify the vehicle as being interesting to eat so they merely ignored us. There were many occasions when one of the cats we were watching would come up close to us and just look right at us. And then they'd just look elsewhere. It was unnerving at first.

The Okavango Delta is really an odd place. In their summer, our winter, they get rains all through that part of Africa. This rain floods everywhere and fills up the water holes that will be used by the animals for the next some months. Then it stops raining and it gets very dry, desert-like everywhere. However, the rains in Angola, to the northwest, produce a flood that slowly works its way to the delta three months later. So, our arrival in late May coincided with the beginning of the flood. Everyday for weeks the water level in the delta rises. The people in Chief's Camp said that a year ago they went to bed with it dry all the way out to the watering hole and got up surrounded by a lake. So it rains for three months, then is bone dry for three or more months, then a lake magically appears which lasts for several more months.

It was also very flat everywhere we were in Botswana. What constitutes a high spot are the remnants of termite mounds. These mounds, which can be 10-15 feet tall, have over the years built up an area in which trees and shrubs began to grow, and they now constitute the highest ground around. So, when it floods, these old termite mounds become islands.

Anyway, after watching the cheetah brothers, we wandered around the delta area trying to find some more predators; we were always looking for predators. We also saw more giraffes and zebra and antelope and all manner of birds. However, while crossing one of the now flooded areas, we got stuck. Seems the rear wheels had fallen into a hole dug out by hippos and there was no getting us unstuck. Comic, our guide, tried using some trees to pry us up but to no avail. So we had to call for another cruiser to come pull us out. Fortunately, the view around us was quite delightful. In short order, help arrived and two of them strode into the water to attach the cable they'd use to pull us out. I casually mentioned that they were pretty comfortable given the crocodile some 75 feet away, at which point they all jumped back from the water. They do not take this animal lightly. Anyway, that was enough excitement for the morning so it was back to camp for us.

That afternoon we went out a little early to see the dead giraffe. It wasn't hard to find; you had only to follow the vultures circling. Turns out the hyenas and the jackals and a variety of other animals also use the circling vultures to spot a possible meal. Well, the giraffe was surrounded by dozens of vultures, all very upset because they could not tear open the hide; so they all awaited the arrival of some bigger predator who could. A really bizarre sight.

Shortly thereafter, we heard that the other land cruiser had spotted some wild dogs. Now it turns out that the wild dogs are an endangered animal and most visitors have never seen them. So this was a big sighting. After about 15 minutes of bone-jarring travel at high speed over incredibly bad roads we came across a troop of seven dogs just lazing around some 30 feet from the other land cruiser. We slowly drove up and then we all sat around and just watched them.

Now as we found with the cheetahs that morning, when the cats and dogs aren't hunting, they don't do a whole lot. They sleep for a while, they move from the sun back into the shade, and they may play with one another. For maybe an hour, the dogs were no different and we were getting prepared to move on. Then, there was a perceptible change in their demeanor. All of them suddenly became restless. The alpha male got up and moved off. Then they all started to follow at a slow lope heading toward a group of impala grazing maybe half a mile away. We tried to follow them but we had to stay on the roads and there was a small forest between us and where they were going. So we only saw bits and pieces of what followed next.

As the pack closed on the impala you could see the whole herd take off. By the time we got around the trees blocking our view, there was nothing to see; no impala and no dogs. Then we noticed a jackal heading toward where the impala had been. Then we passed one of the dogs, who was obviously unable to keep up with the pack because of a noticeable limp, heading back towards some trees to the side of us. Following him, we came across what was left of the impala being torn apart by the rest of the dogs. Within another minute, the jackal arrived trying to get some scraps.

It was an amazing event. Within 10 minutes of the pack deciding it was dinner time they had sighted, caught and devoured an impala. It turns out that the dogs have a very high kill percentage; maybe 95% and higher than any other predators. Well, we were exhilarated to say the least. And it was sundowner time.

The next day we didn't see much on the morning drive; just the cheetah brothers again and more zebra, elephants, giraffes, etc. etc. Oh, and half a dozen Hyenas lying next to the road with a completely devoured impala next to them. Having just eaten, we knew there would be little activity out of them for some time so we headed back for lunch. It was becoming clear that impala were the fast food of the bush; a big Mac on the hoof.

Katherine had wanted to ride in the local dugout canoe called a makoro. So that afternoon we first headed out to the flooded area where she and another couple took a boat ride. Mike passed on this because he thought the boats were too small. Anyway, after that we headed to a different part of the reserve where it was hoped that we might see the lions that were in the area. Well, we were not disappointed. Not long after we arrived in the area we spotted four lionesses just sauntering along. Then, suddenly, off to one side we spotted a leopard heading the other direction. With the expectation that we could find the lions later, we headed off to track the leopard. For the next hour we just trailed along while she just sauntered through the brush and woods. We eventually lost her when she headed into heavy woods so we went back to find the lions.

They had not gone far. They were in the shade watching some zebras grazing maybe 200 yards away. So we parked near them and just watched them for awhile. But, they just lazed around showing little interest in the hunt so the coming evening forced us to leave. Just another day in the bush. Unfortunately, it was our last day in Chief's Camp. We had had great game viewing, we had been thoroughly pampered by the staff, we had a lovely room and delicious food. We were not expecting this to improve.

While waiting for our flight the next morning we sat on the main deck and watched the activity at the watering hole. First a giraffe dropped by to drink; an interesting sight to see, and then some impala cruised through. Then the local baboons headed on out. However, spread out between the lodge and the pool, they suddenly became very agitated and moved off to one side with many of them coming up on the pool deck. The source of their anxiety turned out to be a hyena who came by 50 feet away from the main deck heading for the pond. He was followed in short order by several others while the baboons sat by the pool cautiously watching. Well, this went on for half an hour until the hyenas moved off and the baboons finished their journey to the pond. Never dull near a water hole.

We caught another flight that morning and landed in what looked like a desolate area of scrub brush with no obvious game. The Selinda Reserve is located along the Selinda Spillway, linking the Okavango Delta to the Linyanti Swamps. However, it did not have any noticeable water in stark contrast to the delta region. This, we expected, was going to be a big disappointment. And it was not helped by the guide driving us back to camp. 'So what have you seen?' Mompati, our next guide, wanted to know. 'Well, we've seen just about everything,' we offered. 'Lions and leopards and dogs, oh my.' 'Oh' he replied, obviously looking disappointed.

We had clearly moved down a notch in accommodations. The Zibalianja camp has been described as the smallest camp in Africa. It offered three guest tents but with zipper doors instead of the framed doors of Chief's Camp. And, although the bathroom facilities were attached, you had to go through another zipper flap to get to it. It was also pointed out that they rely on solar water so all showers would have to be in the afternoon after brunch. And in complete contrast to the main lodge at Chief's Camp, this had a small table for dining in a very small, open lodge and a little hut that was the bar. But it was a delightful spot.

Our hostess, Monica, met us and chatted about the facilities and the area. Chris, the other host, was out on an animal survey and wasn't due in until that night. We were the only ones there at the moment but others would be arriving the next day. Unfortunately, she was quick to point out, the water in the lagoon was very low because of a blockage upriver. Indeed, a major concern in the Selinda area was that the blockage would not be cleared and their local lagoon would dry up and the animals would move on.

So, we unpacked, had a lovely lunch and took our afternoon nap. This afternoon nap became a ritual at all of the camps. None of the camps offered TV, radio or even a phone. Furthermore, there was precious little light to read by in the evening. So, first, we were usually in bed by 10 pm, which was good considering we would be getting up at around 6 am. And, and after the body pounding rides in the land cruisers, we usually were asleep quickly. Second, with nothing to do in the camp after lunch but read, the afternoon nap was a delight. Most of the camps had games you could play and some magazines to read but you'd be advised to bring along cards and whatever board games you liked to play. In point of fact, until we got to the River Club in Zambia, we were never trying to fill in empty time. And the only reason we had it there is that we chose not to do much.

Well, back to the lodge at 3 for coffee and tea and then we headed out with Mompati. Five minutes out of camp he casually points out the three cheetahs up ahead. There, indeed, were three brothers just lounging in the shade. Well, we were delighted to say the least. We watched them for the next two hours, hoping they would go hunting or something. Finally, at Mompati's urging and the oncoming evening, we went to have our sundowner. Working on our second gin and tonic, he suggested that we should head for the lagoon before it got too dark. Why not? As we drove down to the lagoon it was almost completely dark but there was obviously something afoot. First, we discovered the local pack of 16 dogs excitedly running around at the edge of the lagoon. They were covered in mud and were looking out into the lagoon. Shining the spotlight out there we saw a hyena 50 feet out in the mud flats attempting to approach a dead lechwe red, a large antelope. He was very tentative about going to it because the lechwe was being eaten by a crocodile. And then a second hyena showed up, seriously agitating the dogs. However, in deference to the power of the hyena, the dogs did little more than harass it.

We also became aware of elephants behind us, and when Mompati shined his light back there, there were elephants standing around everywhere. Apparently, the dogs and hyenas were keeping them from getting to the lagoon and their trumpeting suggested that they were not happy. The lagoon was also home to a herd of hippos and they were heading out of the lagoon on their way to fed at night. And, when Mompati again shined his light out in the lagoon, we then noticed a herd of lechwe standing way out in the flats. So, there we sat in our land cruiser, encircled by the dogs, between the elephants and the water they desperately wanted, with hippos wandering by.

It took us a while to figure out what had happened but events the next morning would explain it. The dogs had chased a herd of lechwe out into the lagoon. While the lechwe could negotiate the mud, the dogs couldn't. They must have seriously injured one of the lechwe which only made it part way out. The noise of the attack drew the hyenas, one of which chased the dogs away from the kill only to have a crocodile steal it from him. Trying a number of times to approach the lechwe, the hyena eventually decided to leave it and head back to shore. Unfortunately, he became bogged down in the mud and soon collapsed from exhaustion. And that's how we left things to head back for dinner.

Well, the next morning we were very eager so see what was up at the lagoon so we arrived there just past dawn. And, there was everybody right where we'd left them the night before, except for the elephants. Neither the dogs nor the herd of lechwe had apparently moved or slept. The hippos were settling back into the lagoon. The dead lechwe had been finished by the croc and the hyena stuck in the mud had apparently expired. What we had not noticed the night before was the huge flock of pelicans, way out in the lagoon.

After 20 minutes or so, the dogs headed on around to the right side of the lagoon toward another herd of lechwe we had not noticed. They quickly gave chase closing on the herd with amazing speed. However, as apparently happened the night before, the lechwe did not turn and run but rather headed out into the lagoon to join the herd already out there. This time, the dogs did not follow. Apparently the lechwe know they can find refuge in the mud flats.

Well, that was entertaining. On the way back we came across a herd of buffalo moving through the woods. We watched them for a while but could not follow because of the dense forest. Then we came up on four elephants herding along a baby as well as half a dozen giraffes and three young ones and a variety of impala and zebras just grazing around. At this point, we were only interested in an occasional picture.

Then as we passed a nearly dry watering hole, Mike saw a hyena heading away. Stopping, Mompati asked if we wanted to see the three cheetahs again. He had spotted them in the shade behind the watering hole. Well, we watched them for a while but, now they were just more cheetahs. So we headed back towards the lodge for brunch. However, on the way back, we noticed a number of vultures all going in the same direction. This is a pretty sure sign of a recent kill so we decided to follow. Sure enough, we soon came across the aftermath of a kill. From the point of the kill Mompati tracked down a lone male cheetah, obviously stuffed, looking for a place to nap. All of this had happened within 24 hours of arriving at Camp Zibalianja.

The noisiest sound in the camp, which is particularly noticeable when you try to take a nap, is the incessant buzzing of the bugs outside. Most of the Selinda camps had a generator which made a lot of noise. However, they did not like using it when people were in camp. What you never adjusted to was the dust.

The dust was everywhere and got into everything. When the land cruisers came to a stop, the cloud of dust following the cruiser would overtake you and leave you in this dust cloud for a minute or so. The hard part was remembering to keep cleaning the camera and binocular lenses. But clothes had to be washed regularly just to get the dust out.

Did I mention the local water? Monica had mentioned that the water was from a well and quite alright to drink. Just ignore the muddy color. The water indeed came out of the faucet with a decidedly brown tint. In general, we drank bottled water throughout, which was always provided, and had no digestive problems at all. Did I also mention the sherry. For inexplicable reasons, every camp had a decanter of sherry and maybe port on the dresser.

By the afternoon's drive, two other couples had arrived; one an American couple and the other a pair of Brits. Nothing particularly interesting happened that afternoon for us, although the other two couples were delighted to see all the giraffes and zebras and elephants, oh my. And, of course, they wanted to take pictures of all of them. We also now had company for sundowner time. On the morning drives you'd head out in an open jeep at 10-20 mph. With wind chills in the 40's it was freezing. The problem was that by 9:30 with the sun out it started to get very warm. The afternoon was the exact reverse. You'd head out in the cruiser in full sun and the temperature in the 70's or 80's and then return at night. The problem was how to dress.

We wore long pants in the morning and shorts in the afternoon. Then we would put on multiple layers of clothing and a wind breaker in the morning, slowly shedding them as we went. And, we'd reverse the process at night. It was too cold for the shorts in the morning and too hot for long pants in the afternoon. We thought about bringing gloves and wished we had; they would have been very welcome. While getting up the morning was cold everywhere, it was particularly rigorous at the Selinda camps. Because they used solar heating, there was no warm water in the morning so rinsing our faces was particularly invigorating.

Before using the toilet the first morning, I shined my light into it to make sure nothing was making itself at home and to my surprise, found a spider the size of a half dollar sitting in it. Flushing took care of him but I kept the light with me at all times in the dark after that.

Well, we had only planned two nights in Camp Zeb so this morning we were going to walk to the next camp with the Brits. So right after breakfast we headed out with our trusty guide, Steve, who carried a gun with very big bullets. He assured us that it was indeed loaded and that he would use it if necessary. Joseph, the porter, who carried water and snacks for us all, brought up the rear.

We had originally been told that a walking safari was a great way to get down and close to the animals so we had scheduled this as part of our package. It was some 7 miles but all flat so it didn't seem too rigorous. However, we did not have hiking boots, thinking this would be more of a walk than a hike. That was a major mistake. There was in fact no path. Steve would just head off in the right direction through the woods. And because the ground was full of holes and branches and whatever, you had to pay a lot of attention to where you put your feet. Good boots would have helped a lot.  But good boots are really heavy to pack.

A second problem that became painfully obvious very quickly was that while you were watching your feet, you'd forget to check the bush you were walking by. A lot of bushes in Africa have major thorns; thorns upwards of two inches long. After a few brushes with these bushes, you had to keep watching the bushes as well as your feet. In retrospect, we would have skipped the walk. First, you cannot get close to animals. They've seen or heard you half a mile away and as soon as you got anywhere near them, they'd run off. The walk itself was dusty, hot, long and boring. Except for when we were tracking the leopard. Steve had spotted some fresh leopard tracks heading towards the watering hole we were heading towards and so decided to follow the tracks. At one point going through some heavy brush he took the gun off his shoulder, which gave us all pause. Unfortunately, the watering hole had gone dry so there was nothing around it. Anyway, we were grateful to finally arrive at our next camp.

Now you have to have a picture of where we were. We were some miles from the nearest camp, in the bush with no electricity, no running water, no nothing. We all wanted to clean up before lunch but they had to heat the shower water on the fire first. We then took bucket showers; they poured the heated water into buckets, hauled them up overhead, and you'd turn on the spigot to get a shower. The shower area was enclosed on the camp side but wide open towards the woods. It was an experience. When we arrived, the local troop of monkeys was running all over the place. They were looking for water and had figured out how to lift the lid on the toilets; yes, indeed, we did have flush toilets. But after our arrival, the monkeys returned to the forest and things quieted down. This time when I checked out the toilet there were no spiders, but the basin was full of drowned yellow jackets. It is difficult to relax on a toilet when you are being buzzed by bees and wasps, intent on getting to the water you're sitting over.

We had now gone from a tent with a wooden door, to a tent with a large zippered flap to this one with a small zippered door. I had major difficulty bending over to go through the door, a minor inconvenience. Still, the interior, though smaller than that at Camp Zeb, was adequate. In fact, throughout our trip we never had a bad bed. Kath and I quickly agreed to pass on the afternoon walk and also see if we could go directly to the main Selinda camp the next day, skipping the 6 mile walk to the next walk-in camp. Maryna, our host, took care of that and arranged for us to be picked up the next morning. Now we could relax.

After our shower, a nice lunch under the nearby trees, a nap and then a couple of beers before cocktail hour, we were treated to the kind of hospitality we were growing to dearly love. Maryna had prepared a feast for dinner that was basically unimaginable considering where we were. Over the open fireplace we had Kabobs for snacks with wine, of course, and then potatoes, beef filets, fried cheese sandwiches, green beans and a meringue for desert. We were flabbergasted at both the quality and quantity of the food. And the filets, which were Botswana beef, were done perfectly and very tasty.

Light along the pathways was provided by kerosene lanterns and light in your tent by the similar looking but electric florescent lights. Needless to say, reading was not possible. They also provided a real man-sized flashlight to get you around outside. Given that the bathroom was next to the tent, and fully open to the outside, you definitely used the flashlight to be sure you were alone before heading to the bathroom. And in case you met something untoward, you could use the flashlight to defend yourself.

At Chief's Camp you were awakened by the maid bringing coffee and tea. Here, our guide, Joseph, awakened you with a pot of hot water that you could use for your morning freshening up. And, as with every breakfast, there was a variety of fruits and cereal, bread and jams and coffee and tea. And, to my great delight, peanut butter. Turns out the South Africans eat a lot of peanut butter which is virtually unavailable in London.

It did seem that camp life, particularly in the walk-in camps, could be very lonely. The camp hosts also had a very odd way to communicate with friends. They would write a letter and pass it along to an airplane making routine pickups. Then when the letter eventually got back to the main administration center back in a city, it would be faxed to the recipient. The recipient was informed to not write letters in the interim but to wait until they could respond to that letter. Eventually the recipient would fax back a reply which would, eventually, be delivered to the hosts out at the camp. It was kind of like a slow motion chat room.

It was my impression that the hosts dearly loved the outdoors and were willing to tolerate the isolation to be part of it. But they were away from friends and family for months. There was apparently a lot of turnover among the hosts.

The ride to the main camp at Selinda was typical. We spotted a couple of jackals fighting over a recent kill. Saw a number of ostriches for the first time, saw a herd of buffalo and a lot of birds as well as the ubiquitous antelope, zebra, etc., etc. We also came across yet another pair of cheetahs; this time a mother and son. We watched them lolling around for a while, and were delighted to hear them purr. However, they didn't seem inclined to do much, so we soon headed for the main camp.

Arriving at the main camp for brunch confirmed that we had made the correct decision. The main Selinda lodge was a two-story wooden building with the main dining area upstairs and a great bar and lounging area downstairs. Our cabin was very spacious tent with a wooden door and completely enclosed bathroom. And from the front porch of our tent you had a broad view of the nearby savanna, where we watched elephants and giraffes and a variety of other animals cross on their way to the lagoon. And we were surrounded by an incredible variety of birds. This camp was like an oasis of green surrounded by dry savanna.

The only disaster of the trip came as Kath was heading down the stairs after brunch. Right near the bottom she slipped and on falling, whacked her right arm into the edge of one of the steps. Within minutes she had a goose egg on her forearm the size of a pear. We got ice for it but a couple of hours later she was in serious pain and the entire underside of the arm was very swollen and black and blue. We, of course, were fearful that she had broken a bone and, considering where we were, would have to be med-vacked to a hospital. This was not a pleasant thought. However, it turned out that one of the women visitors had just finished med school and assured us it wasn't as bad as it seemed. She also gave Kath some serious pain medication and got her to put the arm in a sling.

Katherine being the trooper she is, and desperately trying to avoid attention, finished the trip without incident. However, as soon as people saw the arm she was the immediate center of attention. Everyday, on meeting anybody, including the help, they would all want to see the arm, gasp when they saw it, and enquire as to whether it was getting better.

Anyway, he had continually told our guides what animals we wanted to see. Early on it was seeing any of the big seven; the Big Five trophy animals, lions, leopards, elephants, rhino and buffalo as well as cheetahs and wild dogs. Well, after four days, we'd seen everything except rhinos, which we'd seen in Nepal and were not particularly interested in seeing here; they are pretty boring to watch. And we'd seen the start and finish of a kill. And we certainly weren't interested in seeing any more grazing animals. So, what we told our next guide, is that we wanted to see a troop of lions, which were in the area, an actual kill, a male lion and to get close to a herd of buffalo.

Well, the previous night the group in the other land cruiser had seen a cheetah take down an ostrich right in front of the land cruiser at dusk and come across lions finishing off a hippo; hippo-hunting lions are a specialty of the area. So we didn't think that we were asking for much.

The next morning Mike was awakened by the loud slurping of water out of the birdbath 30 feet in front of our tent. Dawn was just breaking and by the time he got the flashlight and headed over to the front of the tent, all he could see was a large shape moving away; it was nearly pitch black and it's difficult to grab a flashlight you couldn't see, get out of bed and cross the tent to the front door quietly. The guides at breakfast assured him it was probably just a hyena; you could always hear them calling at night and nobody paid much attention to them around the camp. But Mike felt sure that the shape was more that of a cat than of a hyena. However, being grassy there, there was no way to check footprints and the camp guides couldn't find anything.

In fact, the following morning the same thing happened again. This time, the animal left as soon as Mike got out of bed and again, there were no obvious signs. However, on the morning that we were leaving, one of the guides said that he had found leopard tracks leading up to the grassy area of the camp. Also, on that last morning, there was a big pile of dung near the bird bath that was identified as from a hippo. So, we were never far from the wildlife.

Well, over the next two days we found a male lion, which we watched lounging around, and we spent a considerable amount of time watching the herd of buffalo. What we hadn't seen was a kill. And then on the last evening drive we ran across the mother and son cheetahs again. However, this time they looked hungry.

We followed them for maybe two hours while they slowly moved through the savanna before giving up and going to a place for the sundowner. However, midway through the second G&T we heard the distinct sounds of a kill very close by. By the time we packed up and got to the place, we found the mother cheetah leaving the area, a hyena and a couple of jackals looking for the kill, but no kill. We had obviously left the cheetahs just a little too soon. Unfortunately, that was our last chance.

We hardly had room to complain. In the nine days we were out in the bush, we had seen far more than we could ever have expected and more than most ever see. One of the ladies we met was an African travel specialist who'd been to Africa maybe 50 times and she'd never seen wild dogs. And we'd seen two different packs and the start and end of two different kills. The next morning we were driven to the airport and flown to Kasane, in the northeast part of Botswana, picked up at the airport and taken across the Zambezi river to Zambia, picked up on that side by a driver for the River Club, passed through customs and headed out to the River Club. About half and hour later we turned off the main road, such as it was, and drove down to the Zambezi River where we were picked up by a boat to be shuttled over to the River Club. Kasane was one of the big cities in Botswana but we didn't stop there. However, the most that we saw were a lot of discount stores selling everything imaginable. The River Club was set up as our last stop to give us some relaxation time after nine straight days in the bush and we had several objectives. One, to see a local village. Two, to shop for trinkets at Livingstone, the capital. Three, to see Victoria Falls. And four, to just chill out. In the three days we were there, we did every one of these things.

The River Club ranks up there with Chief's Camp as a first class resort. Our room was large, and not a tent. It's one really novel feature was the open back wall. By open I mean there was no back wall at all. Your view out the back was of the Zambezi River. You could sit in the bath tub-yeah, they had full time hot water and a bath tub-and watch the Zambezi. There were also hippos in the river and you could hear them snorting day and night. However, there were no animals around at night because the entire grounds were surrounded by an electric fence.

We arrived well after lunch but the luncheon buffet was still set up for us. We had also come back to a three-meals-a-day schedule. You were awakened at a time of your choice in the morning by the maid with coffee, tea, juice and cookies. Then breakfast to order. Then the choice of activities. This afternoon we had our nap after lunch and then headed down to the main lodge for tea before heading out to the sundowner cruise. Here, for the sundowner, they would take all the guests out on the Club's boat somewhere upriver and you'd just float down, eating appetizers and drinking G&T's or whatever, waiting for the sun to set. It was delightful. The only hard part, if you had too many drinks, was getting off the boat and then up the 40 steps from the river to the lodge.

Peter Jones built the place himself and it was quite lovely. He also liked to take you out for the sundowner and point out all of the bird and animal life on the river. We had come to expect first class service and we were not disappointed. Breakfast and lunches were served on the grass next to the main lodge and both had a lovely view of the Zambezi. Dinner, after the obligatory cocktail hour which followed the sundowner cruise, was at a large table which seated all of the guests so you got a chance to meet everybody.

The next morning we had scheduled the visit to Livingstone first with a visit to the falls after that. Well, Livingstone was the first town we'd visited on the trip and it wasn't a whole lot. Coming to the main street, Marshall, our very patient driver, pointed out that if you turn left, you can drive to Cape Town and if you turn right, you can drive to Egypt.

Our objective was to go to the t-shirt shop and order t-shirts for all the family and then to visit the local craft's market to find some trinkets to add to our already expansive museum. First, we got 10 t-shirts with the emblem of the local beer on the front. And then we went to the local market. The merchants acted like a bunch of lions with a fresh kill. We were live customers in an otherwise very slow market. Anyway, Kath bought some baskets and I settled on two sets of carved heads of the local people; one small pair made of stone and the other a pair of very large heads carved out of ebony. The two ebony heads weighed maybe 15 pounds so I was not at all sure how we were going to get these home. After that, we headed to the falls.

Now the Victoria Falls are one of the greatest falls in the world. Not as much water as Niagara, but it usually ranks 2nd in terms of grandeur. (The most spectacular falls in the world are the Igua'u Falls in Argentina/Brazil, which we have seen and which we can confirm are the most spectacular falls anywhere.) We had been warned that it would be wet there but were not prepared for how wet. First, the Zambezi was higher than it had been for at least 30 years. The problem with the falls when it is in flood stage is that it throws up so much spray that you can't even see the falls.

Walking down to the falls Marshall had us put on parkas and then handed us very large umbrellas. And then he suggested we walk along the trail directly opposite the falls and no more than a hundred feet from the falling water. The problem with this trail is that the falling spray is coming down so hard you cannot see or do anything. The rain is harder than any downpour you've ever been in and there is a very strong updraft. And you keep worrying about your footing because you are walking in maybe an inch of running water.

We quickly decided to take the inland route and then walk out to the various lookout vistas along the way. All the vistas gave you views of whatever part of the falls would open up as the spray moved about. The few brave soles viewing the falls without benefit of parkas and umbrellas looked like they'd been swimming. Anyway, after half an hour of this, we headed back to tour the falls on the dry side above the falls. Here you could see the Zambezi as the it disappeared over the falls. Not quite as spectacular, but a lot easier to do.

After that, it was back to the Club for lunch and our massage. We found out when we checked in that they offered massages and so at 3 o'clock our masseuses arrived. They gave us a top to bottom massage for one full hour. Afterwards, I could hardly move. But, later that afternoon at the cocktail hour one of the people we'd met asked why we looked so relaxed. It was worth every penny. The next day we started with a tour of the local village, then a helicopter tour of the falls, and then a second trip to Livingstone. We had also considered doing some white water rafting but the rapids were closed to all rafting because of the high water. To begin with, we have been to a lot of poor countries and seen a lot of poverty, so we were well prepared for what we saw in the village. 20 or so families living in a shanty town. The River Club provided some support to the village so they were very accommodating. And, we were quickly accepted.

First, the couple traveling with us had brought along peel off children's stickers which the kids thought were great. Within 30 minutes they were all covered with stickers. Michael also had the digital camera and began to coax people to let us take their pictures by showing them the digital images. So, soon we were the center of a lot of attention.

We hadn't seen any village people in Botswana so this was a real opportunity. The one thing of note that we saw in the village, and on billboards all around Livingstone, were signs supporting the use of condoms. On the wall of one of the houses we were invited into were several posters saying basically, 'No condoms, No sex.' We were told that the population of Botswana was actually declining because of deaths due to AIDS. This is a real problem.

The life of the villagers was clearly hard. They had to carry water upwards of a mile each way from the Zambezi if they wanted really clean water. And the school was clearly showing it's age. But, at least the various religious groups were there to look after their souls, if not their bodies. The first 15 minutes of the helicopter ride gives you views of the falls you cannot otherwise see and a real perspective on the size of the falls. The next 15 minutes the pilot tries to make you all airsick by doing acrobatic flying down the gorge below the falls. He kept looking back and asking, 'Is everybody ok?' Anyway, I thought it was great but the other three in the group were developing a distinctly greenish cast. We finished the flight with a flyover of the Zambia national park and spotted all five of the rhinos in Zambia. Yes, there are only five. Kath wanted to go back to the market to buy some baskets from a vendor that she maintained I had gotten too good a deal from. So, we ended up paying list price for a couple of baskets that were worth half that.

Anyway, on returning to the River Club, we were met by our hosts who asked us if we wanted to go see some elephants. They had sighted the local herd by the water right across the river. Now this local herd is at least 100 elephants and we hadn't seen anything that large in Botswana. So, yes, we were very interested. We dumped our stuff and were in the boat in 5 minutes. Crossing the river we spotted them frolicking along the shore. Now elephants are not real excited about anything coming too close. So, we went upriver of them and then floated down to a point just below where they had come down to the water and anchored ourselves there. They pretty much ignored us. For the next 30 minutes we watched them just play. Particularly entertaining was a baby who would mimic the adults throwing dirt and water on their backs. We then went back upstream to a point just above another group and again watched for 30 minutes or so before they wandered off into the woods. Well, this wasn't bad for a slow, do-nothing day. After that it was lunch, a nap another massage and an evening watching the sun set. All good things must come to an end and the next morning we were out of there.

Some observations. Botswana, it turns out, has a very specific tourist policy. They have opted for high-cost but low-volume camps vis-'-vis low-cost, high-volume camps popular in other countries. They want to avoid the nightmare stories of having a dozen land cruisers circled around the one lion they located, making it impossible to get a picture of the lion without one of the other land cruisers in the picture. And all of the camps we were familiar with were offered as pretty much all inclusive at one price, including the River Club in Zambia. What that meant is that all meals, all drinks, except champagne and some exotic drinks, all laundry, everything was included. Service everywhere was outstanding. And the food was delicious, varied and plentiful. At every lunch and dinner good South African wines were always offered. You had to keep reminding yourself that you were hundreds of miles from anywhere in the African bush. We all joked about putting on weight while roughing it in the African bush.

This is not a kind of trip that you should plan on your own. Things can change fairly quickly in a camp and its environment. Water is a key factor. If it has been unusually dry then the water holes will dry up and the animals will move on. If the rains in Angola were unusually light or heavy then the water levels in the delta will be correspondingly low or high. A camp may have experienced financial problems or whatever. And, most important of all, is there a pride of lions or a pack of dogs that is resident in the area? It is critically important that your travel consultant has current information about where you are going and can advise you accordingly. Nobody that we met had any complaints about anything.

This was also not a very rigorous trip. Aside from the body-slamming rides, there wasn't much physical activity. And they would even provide you with a step to help you in and out of the land cruisers. The most strenuous thing I did in Botswana was to stand up in the land cruiser as we drove around, looking for game. So it is an easy trip to do, no more difficult than planning a cruise. We were taken care of from the time we arrived in Maun until the time we left Zambia.

Many of the people we met were Americans and most people had been to Africa many times before. We also ran into no children on the trip which was delightful. The pace in Chief's camp was somewhat frenzied. We spent a lot of time driving across vast expanses of savanna and through woods trying to find the game. In Selinda, it was somewhat more relaxed as the territory being covered was considerably smaller. Of course, there was virtually no pace at the River Club where you could do as much or as little as you wanted.

You must get used to a number of unusual things at these camps. Bugs, for one. Besides the spider in the toilet, we sat down to dinner at the main Selinda camp to find a large spider on the table next to my plate. And we found a four-inch long millipede on the bathroom floor. But flies and mosquitoes were minimal. One really odd thing was at the River Club. The first night there we had all the lights on before going over to dinner. And then we suddenly became aware of the fact that there were little moths everywhere around the lights. When we came back that night, the mosquito nets had been put up and the floor was covered with dead moths. Obviously, they the maid had done some spraying.

The other thing you get used to is the constant chatter of the birds. The turtle dove, for example, goes on and on and on singing its little song, "I am a tur-tle dove"; it was like a Chinese water torture. Some of the other birds are just plain noisy. And they all start up at the crack of dawn.

In all camps to some degree, but the main Selinda Camp in particular, you could hear your neighbors quite clearly. Basically, you shared any loud conversation, every burp or fart, and any singing you might do in the shower with your neighbors. Also, out on a drive, any toilet needs were done behind some clump of brush, after first verifying there were no animals sleeping nearby. And the attached bathrooms allowed for little modesty with whoever you were sharing your tent with.

When you arrive in a camp, you are basically assigned to a guide. And, during the trip we had a couple of very good guides. On the other hand, we had one that, in my opinion, was simply not as good at tracking as the other guide. With a bad guide you will spend a lot of time just wandering around in search of game. However, there was no simple and easy way to request another guide. And, for that matter, our guide may have just been having bad luck. And no host is going to admit that one guide is better than another.

It is quite impossible to use binoculars or a camera while moving; you bounced around too much. I had a 100-300 mm telephoto for my camera. With the multiplier effect of the digital camera, the effective zoom on the lens went to 160-480 mm. That's nearly a 10x lens. And it wasn't enough. There were many occasions when I could have used a much more powerful telephoto to get really intimate pictures of the animals. Bringing a point-and-shoot for these pictures will leave you very disappointed. But at least those cameras have a zoom capability. Bringing an SLR with a simple 50mm lens is a complete waste.

I also had two other lenses that got a lot of use. First, during the day I relied almost totally on the telephoto. However, for the sunsets, and for a few pictures of the broad savannas, I used a very wide angle lens. At night, however, trying to photograph the animals in the guide's spotlight, your auto-focus feature will be nearly useless; you will have to go to manual focus. For the night photography, I used a very fast, 80mm lens and a dedicated flash; your built-in flash is simply too feeble to be of much use. I missed a lot of night pictures trying to make everything work in total darkness, until I figured all of this out.

A small flashlight is handy when getting up during the night; the big ones they supply are a little unwieldy. Hats and sunglasses are very desirable to have along as are multiple layers of clothes and gloves. Sandals were great most of the time, but I had to put socks on when it got cold. We spent six nights in the Selinda camps, which was two too many. Although we were in three different camps, they actually share the same game area and after 3-4 days you've pretty much seen it all. Again, this is something your travel consultant should advise you on.

We were told that we were visiting Zambia at the best time. However, we were told that July and August was a better time to visit the delta area and the Selinda area because the water would be up then. But it could also be quite cold. For 2-3 nights, the River Club was great, but we think that it would be a little boring after that. All the camps were in beautiful locations.

We found out that if you fly into Livingstone, your pilot will frequently circle the falls obviating the need for the helicopter ride. Unfortunately, we flew into Kasane, Botswana and came into Zambia by car. You might want to plan that in your schedule.

The currency of choice everywhere we went was $US. Some places would accept 'UK but virtually nobody would accept Euros. For example, when trying to pay the airport tax to leave Zambia we were out of $ and they wouldn't accept anything else. And the money exchanger would only accept 'UK, which, fortunately, we still had; otherwise we'd still be at the Livingstone airport. And bring along a lot of small bills; $5 and $10 because you'll need them for bargaining and for tips. Getting change for a $20 or larger bill is tedious at best. We did not see a cash machine anywhere because we were not in any big cities. It is likely they were somewhere in Livingstone, but by then we didn't need more money