Zambia and Botswana Safari Review
by Dave Ashton
We had a great trip, a couple of minor mishaps but to be expected in the grand scheme of things.
Safari Agent Performance
The service from Island Safari was on the whole very good. A couple of things were delivered after the date promised however all was resolved satisfactorily.
Our Letaka safari was fantastic. Our superb guide (Ofentse) was extremely intelligent, knowledgeable and kind. He looked after us very well and took a real interest in our learning. There wasn't a question he couldn't answer and didn't tire of us even after 10 days.
The rest of the camp staff were also great; we were sad to say goodbye. The vehicles were also top notch, clean, new, very well equipped.
THAMAKALANE LODGE - great. Really enjoyed our introduction to Botswana: friendly staff, good food, peaceful location.
CHUNDUKWA RIVER LODGE - neither good nor bad … a disappointment as it looked great on the web. We had the best room as it was properly en-suite - the rest were en-suite via a small bridge connecting the two rooms.
Unfortunately, being the dry season the room was uncomfortably cold (the room is on stilts over water with gaps in the floor and only canvas roll-down windows).
The food was good and the outlook was also good.
One item that left a bad taste in the mouth was the lodge making money on transfers. We arranged to do the Lion walk at Thorntree and were charged US$15pp each way for the transfer, a rip off when a taxi all the way to town would be US$10-$15 (shared by 4 people in the car).
MVUU LODGE - unexpectedly a highlight after expecting Chundukwa to be our best "lodge".
We took the self catering option and this worked fine. We ate dinner and breakfast from the restaurant, normally taken with the lovely manager Jane.
The accommodation really was tops with comfortable beds, spacious tent, great bathroom, nice view, peaceful - perfect.
We chose to simply relax at this lodge. Sitting on the wide banks of the Zambezi listening to the hippos and watching the world go by was great. I recommend this place.
MWALESHI CAMP - I'll start with a caveat, in summary, our stay with Remote Africa was great but Mwaleshi was not. I'm not sure if our guide was having a bad week however we felt uncomfortable from the start. My wife and I were the only guests at the lodge and I think for this reason the guide could not be bothered, it felt very much like he was just going through the motions.
On arrival, lots of staff around but no introductions so we took it on ourselves to say hello and make introductions. Mealtimes were painful as the guide sat with us but did not speak to us. On two occasions he told me he was bored of game drives etc.
We felt so uncomfortable that, after two bush walks and a few unpleasant meals, we asked to leave the camp early despite originally intending to stay until Thursday (from Sunday).
Our guide called Tafika and said we could go on Wednesday if we paid US$200, this we gladly did. This was a real shame as Mwaleshi was meant to be one of the trip highlights. It seems on looking through the guest book that for many people it was a trip highlight however this was as a result of the guides that usually man this camp.
Ed and then Ernst (I seem to recall) both had great write-ups, i.e. Ernst's "infectious enthusiasm" etc seemed to be a regular comment, unfortunately for us the opposite was true. We had Stephen who was standing in for the usual guide and we were very disappointed when we learnt if we had come a few weeks later we would have got the proper guide.
The bush walks with Stephen were not enjoyable - the first walk in the evening was OK as the experience was new to us; the second walk in the morning was obviously just a chore to him. We walked for 6 hours, with periods of up to half an hour with no one speaking - I love bush walking however this was just a trudge and I may as well have been navigating myself on a hike in the Australian bush.
I have no idea what Stephen said to the guys at Tafika however we were glad to leave early, it seemed very odd however that no one at Tafika enquired as to why we'd wanted to leave after 36 hours.
As we left I gave cash to Lawrence as a tip for all the backroom staff, I hope this did not get to Stephen as we chose not to give him anything purposefully, it is very rare for us not to tip.
TAFIKA CAMP - had a great time here from the moment we arrived. We both agreed to put the Stephen saga down to experience and not let it affect our honeymoon.
10 out of 10 for the chalet, the food, the hospitality from Heather, John, Carol and Cameron. The drives were great even after the 20 odd that we'd done in Botswana. Really enjoyed the microlight flight, the location, the other guests and the general ambience of the place.
CROCODILE CAMP - Isaac was a legend, he was friendly, funny, kind, down to earth and despite having spent 35 years in the Luangwa valley didn't tire of pointing out small things and making the walks really interesting.
The walks in Crocodile and Chikoko were great and it was nice after so many game drives to see the world from a different view point.
CHIKOKO CAMP - one of our favourite spots, especially the outlook from the chalets. Also, lots of wildlife to see due to the proximity of the water. Our final night in the bush after 26 days; again we were sad to leave.
Only gripe would be we had planned one night at Croc and two at Chikoko, for logistical reasons Heather swapped our stays so we only had one at Chikoko and two at Croc. We weren't told this was happening but worked it out after when we looked at our itinerary. A shame as Chikoko is a nicer camp with more to see, also if Heather had told us in advance we would probably just have agreed to change (having never seen either place before) however we weren't told - it just happened.
The swap was made in order that we could go out with another couple and follow their itinerary, it meant that RAS didn't need to man both camps at the same time for a small group (i.e. one couple in each place). We weren't disappointed until we got to Chikoko and realised how great it was and that we only had one day there rather than the two planned, the king size bed looking out over the wildlife was incredible!
MONDIOR CONCORDE HOTEL - great. This would be a 4-star hotel in Australia and would beat many in that category. Big, comfortable bed, quiet room, nice staff and what a breakfast. Perfect stopover if you don't want to venture too far from the airport.
These were all excellent bar one horrendous flight from Lusaka to Royal Airstrip, Lower Zambezi which it appears Proflight had subcontracted. The plane was a dilapidated old crate that we were nervous to even get on. It was a bumpy flight, during which the pilot appeared to be giving a lesson to a non-uniformed person in the co-pilot seat.
At one point a huge banging and clattering started. Both the pilot (who had now taken off his headset & cap) and other guy looked extremely worried and started looking at the engine making the sound. It transpired; the pilot's seatbelt had been left dangling out of the plane and was banging against the outside. We were told to relax - even though the unknown "co-pilot" was flying.
Next, a red light on the dash came on, along with an alarm. I was now worried. The real pilot quickly took back the controls, and climbed rapidly, saying the seatbelt was affecting pressure and causing doors to pull open.
This was one of the worst experiences I have had. Cavalier attitudes to flying and old bangers for planes is not what I expect from Proflight, particularly considering both their recent crash history and the crash history at Royal.
|Dave's Safari Details:|
Safari agent used: Island Safari (make an enquiry)
Itinerary: 10 days in Botswana with Letaka Safaris, 10 days in Zambia with Remote Access Safaris, 3 days in Vic Falls, 3 days on the Lower Zambezi
Date of safari:July for 3 weeks
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