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Report 1590: If it's Tuesday, is this Botswana?

By Sharonov from Illinois, Fall 2008

Trip Description: For five weeks, from late September to the end of October (2008) my husband and I traveled across southern Africa, from Kruger National Park to Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.

Destinations: Countries - Africa

Categories: Family/Friends; Hotels/B&Bs; Day Tours; Sightseeing; Walking/Hiking; Independent Travel; Package Tour; 2 People

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Page 1 of 12: Never Begin with Luxury

Southern Africa had been on our short list for several years. Bob's cancer surgery last year put our Big Trip on hold, but this year we were determined to do it. We wanted animals, Big Five and others, so that left a choice between two areas: Kenya/Tanzania or Botswana/Namibia. From what we read, the latter was less touristy, so we started researching the various ways we could see "everything" and not completely break the bank. Since Africa can be somewhat dicey, we decided to join a group. Next decision: which of the hundreds (or is it thousands?) of groups should we join? A friend in the same age group as us (middle 60s) had chosen Djoser and gave her tour a thumbs up so I looked carefully into it (not carefully enough as it turns out, which I'll explain later). The groups were smaller than some (max. 20), the price was very competitive, and best of all it covered lots of ground and lasted over three weeks. The website assured us that all Dutch speak good English, there would be a maximum of four North Americans, and the tour guide would explain everything first in Dutch, then in English. So we signed up.

Due to a scheduling snafu (I didn't notice that the date we had chosen to begin our scheduled tour was for the "reverse route") I not only had to pay to change my frequent-flier mile flight plan, we had three days free at the beginning of the trip. After combing the Internet for advice, we decided to go for broke and do a three day safari at a private game reserve, Sabi Sands, which is part of Kruger. After all, would we ever get back to Africa? So we bit the bullet and spent the astronomical sum (for us, anyway) of $300 per person, per night at the middle-priced Bush Lodge. Well, it WAS all inclusive!

Kruger park is immense, at least as big as Delaware. Renting a car at Johannesburg International Airport and driving to our particular lodge would take six hours, assuming we had no difficulty finding our way. A charter flight would have taken us right to our lodge from Jo'Burg airport, but was waaaay too expensive. We opted for a one hour flight to Nelspruit, which left us another 2 1/2 hours to reach our lodge. So we booked a private driver, rather than renting a car after the 16+ hour flight ordeal. I was a little nervous -- no a LOT nervous -- because we only had two hours between flights and I hadn't factored in the fact that we'd have to go through customs in J'burg. Would our driver be waiting in Nelspruit only to have us miss our flight? Just to be on the safe side, we bought small luggage that we could check on British Air thus avoiding baggage claim problems. We were limited to 30 lbs. on our tour anyway, right?

I had trouble checking in on line and we ended up in two middle seats for a 12 hour flight. UGH!!! Even with my usual Benadryl I only got about an hours sleep. Why didn't the guy on the end lean over to the other side and let me use the arm rest sometimes?

We finally reached J'Burg only to find the most chaotic customs check-in I've seen since India! It took over an hour and a half to get through and we barely made our plane.

Our driver, Eric, was waiting for us in a surprisingly lovely little airport in Nelspruit. He told us all about the area on our four hour drive, which made the time almost fly by.

Bush Lodge: what a wonderful place! We had our own little house with bed, lounge chairs, a balcony looking out over the bush (complete with a resident bushbock and her fawn) an area supplied with tea or chocolate making facilities with snack items, and, best of all, an outdoor shower surrounded by a reed wall. I felt as though Clark Gable was going to show up any minute like in the movie "Mogambo!" There was also a bathtub in the huge bathroom. The guy who showed us around, Life, said that we could leave our dirty laundry in the hamper provided and it would be returned in 24 hours. I liked the place.

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